Bring It On Will Thrill Many
Bring It On: The Musical
libretto by Jeff Whitty
music by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda
lyrics by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda
directed & choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler
through December 10
Within the cycle of film to stage projects few have been really meritorious. One of the more appealing stories about an underdog is the exception Legally Blonde. It's far from perfect but its look at women's issues with charm, savvy, and good-natured fun pleases a wide cross section. Now from the musical team Lin-Manuel Miranda of In the Heights and Tom Kitt of Next to Normal fame comes Bring It On. Although not my kind of musical with its overly fast, adrenaline-flowing, high tech approach that screams gloss and flare, I cannot deny that Bring It On is slick. Maybe not substantial enough for Broadway, but slick nonetheless. On its cross-country tour, now at the Ahmanson Theatre, Bring It On is the perfect entertainment for those family-oriented, TV addicted folks who cannot get enough of ambitious teenage girls and their competitive back-stabbing nature, this time around in the field of cheerleading. And the cast like the whole production is also super slick. This, the kids will love... there's not an adult authority figure in sight.
That's right. There's not a coach, principal, counselor or even parent who shows his (her) face in the course of the three-hour marathon of cheer camp and competitions. It's all from the perspective of the girls, who somehow learn their lesson about loss and the importance of friendship all by themselves. Boy oh boy, these super cheerleaders are so sharp and keen. No super moms are needed here! So, it's a show about kids and definitely for kids, and Jeff Whitty's positive slant on by kids is most welcome, especially with so many negative comments about rebellious teenagers, but is it credible? Not likely. The biggest plus in the show is Andy Blankenbuehler's superlative choreography. These dancers are amazing and will blow your socks off. But then, there's this pedestrian plot about one girl getting her revenge on another for her cutthroat competitive tactics. Campbell (Taylor Louderman) groomed Eva (Elle McLemore) on their squad at Truman High, but then to get Eva in the winning position, her mother (we never see her, but learn she is on the school board) sees to it that Campbell is redistricted to Jackson Heights, the underdog school that has a hip hop crew but no cheering squad. Campbell struggles to get noticed by Danielle (Adrienne Warren) and her girl gang. She even stoops to being a kind of mascot - a dancing leprechaun - to prove herself worthy of the crew. Visually, this is a really cute and colorful number. Bridget (Ryann Redmond) is another girl redistricted from Truman to Jackson Heights. Overweight and the object of ridicule by Campbell and the squad at Truman, Bridget manages to make it big in the Jackson Heights crew, gets herself a sexy popular boyfriend and reaps a whole lot more respect than Campbell herself. Idyllic shades of Hairspray? It's surely a lovely thought - that Bridget should fit in as easily, but again is it realistic, given this type of public high school environment? Doubtful, but assuredly of lesser urgency than the lack of authority figures. The script of Bring It On has very good intentions, but will be ripped to shreds by New York critics and audiences.
The entire cast is a joy to watch, and this alone went a long way to keep me involved. Louderman is wonderful, especially in her moments of insecurity and McLemore terrific in her over-the-top bitchy rampages. Warren makes the domineering Danielle the perfect friend in the absence of adult authority. Kate Rockwell and Janet Krupin as Skylar and Kylar respectively are equally engaging. Krupin is adorably funny particularly during her mono(nucleosis) out.to.lunch period. Redmond as Bridget is an astounding triple threat talent to keep one's eyes on. Nicolas Womack, Jason Gotay and Gregory Haney are the male standouts of the 20+ thrilling ensemble.
With so much going for it - cast, choreography and heart-pounding music by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt (though you will hardly hum tunes on the way out), Bring It On does entertain. But let's keep the material grounded and believable! At all costs, it's difficult to justify it as a big bankable Broadway show. Those accustomed to enjoying Glee, Dancing with the Stars and other TV dance fare.. and, of course, sports fanatics... will most likely disagree.