‘Bring It On: The Musical’
Libretto by Jeff Whitty
Lyrics by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Music by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Direction and Choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler
Starring Taylor Louderman, Adrienne Warren, Jason Gotay, Elle McKemore, and Ryann Redmond
Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles (national tour)
Through Dec. 10, 2011
Is a good Las Vegas show your guilty pleasure? If so, by all means “Bring It On.” Right now the Ahmanson stage is rocking out with seemingly impossible precision, inexhaustible energy, and entertaining gymnastics cum dance — or should that be dance cum gymnastics? Based closely on the underlying setup of the Universal Studios cinema franchise of the same name, “Bring It On” has brought in teen and tween audiences for five separate iterations. Basically the trope is this: high school is the summit of life; its apex is competitive cheerleading as blood sport. It is populated by mean girls, outcasts, and heartthrobs, and it pulsates with ambition and jealousy.
Normally I have a strong allergic reaction to movies with sequels, movies aimed at an adolescent market, and musicals derived from movies. Lacking close relatives in the target demographic, I have been blissfully unaware of the “Bring It On” movies — probably a good thing or I never would have gone to the Ahmanson for this production. However, I went, I saw, and I enjoyed.
Here is the plot; it will not take long or be hard to follow. The action (it is almost all action) takes place in a world like that of the “Peanuts” cartoons, nary an adult is in sight. Basically, Campbell (Taylor Louderman) is the oh so decent, oh so powerful, and oh so popular leader of the Truman High cheerleading squad. Eva (Elle McLemore) is the seemingly wimpy, actually manipulative, sophomore dying to get on the squad. Skylar (Kate Rockwell), over-the-top blond, blocks Eva’s entry as well as that of overweight Bridgette’s (Ryann Redmond). Decent Campbell is supportive of the two outcasts. Mysteriously, just before the season starts, Campbell learns she has been redistricted out of Truman High into Jackson High. Her neighbor Bridgette will have to go there, too.
The essence of Truman High is an Orange County out of a mythical past: immaculately groomed, mostly blond, mostly slim, mostly privileged, and mostly vapid. Jackson is an inner city, underprivileged school that does not know from cheerleading. It has its own hierarchy based on a hip-hop and rock crew. They are adamant: crew does not equal squad. Watching them, Campbell is certain she can whip the crew into shape as a cheerleading squad and get into the national cheerleading competition, her ambition from the age of 5. Did I hear you say “fish out of water”? Not so fast. By humbling herself publically, donning and dancing in the school’s silly mascot costume, the ever adaptable Campbell manages to convert the school’s afro coiffed, and wildly garbed hotshots, to the alien idea of forming a cheerleading squad to compete against Truman. After her lifetime of being the pudgy outcast, Bridgette is able to help guide Campbell through the foreign land, Jackson High. La Cienega (Gregory Haney) is a black, over-the-top transvestite. Nothing gets more outcast than that. There are some twists and turns along the way, as well as callow guys who are after the girls and boyfriends being co-opted. This is high school, what else would you expect? You can probably guess the drift of the rest of “Bring It On.” Needless to say it has a feel-good ending.
Does a single melody stick out in my mind? No, and despite the terrific buzz in the lobby following the thundering curtain calls, no one else walked out humming anything catchy either. How’s about clever lines? After all, “Avenue Q’s” Tony winning Jeff Whitty has the top writing credit. If gems were there, they became lost in the stew of squeaky high school jargon, black argot, and the Ahmanson’s always disappointing sound system. Speaking of that sound system, for no apparent reason in the performance on Nov. 11, it was cranked up from barely tolerable to ear-ringing painful for Act II.
What does stay vividly in mind is Andy Blankenbuehler’s heart-stopping choreography and uncompromising direction. For two hours, with seemingly limitless energy, the cast executes rapid, exacting routines. Girls are thrown higher than possible; there is a lot of standing on shoulders, and standing on a single raised hand; there are many other impossible moves. It really is quite amazing. A tip-off: Netflix lists the “Bring it on” movies under “Fitness Workouts.” My advice? Do not try these moves at home. The routines are very similar to the ones in the musical. They are performed by experts.
The question remains: What are you looking for when you go to the theater? If it is simply to be entertained, I can promise you will not be disappointed in this clearly destined-for-Broadway musical. If you are looking for content that you will mull over for days, or tunes that will have you dancing in the kitchen, “Bring It On” is probably not the show for you. One caution, take a teen or tween to see it; they will love it (and maybe love you), but you may find yourself with a kid whose only goal in life is to become a cheerleader. It happens.