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A celebratory show that feels like a huge production on a small stage


Review: BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER: THE MUSICAL, Turbine Theatre But I'm A Cheerleader: The Musical has a long history; based on the 1999 cult film, the musical was first workshopped at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2005, where it picked up the Audience Award for Best New Musical. London got its first glimpse in 2019 at MTFestUK in a showcase for new musicals and it has now opened in a blaze of bubblegum pink at Battersea's Turbine Theatre.

The story follows cheerleader Megan, an all-American sweetheart. Her seemingly perfect life is thrown into disarray when her family sends her to a gay conversion camp after suspecting her of being a lesbian. There she meets Graham, a lesbian tomboy with no intention of being converted and Megan's journey of self-discovery begins in earnest.

The production touches on adolescence, finding your place in the world and sexual identification. Despite all the frivolity, the irrationality of conversion therapy is placed at the centre. There's no better way of exposing the absurdity of prejudice than skewering it with both parody and comedy. The production does both with wit, warmth and such conviction that you cannot help but root for a happy ending.

There are no weak links in the energetic cast, who often double up on roles. Alice Croft is sweet, wholesome and slightly naïve as Megan and Evie Rose Lane as a suitably sulky Graham. Their growing relationship is deftly handled and feels genuine and authentic.

Jodie Steele displays exquisite comic timing as Megan's friend Kimberly and also as camp-mate Hilary. Edward Chitticks is excellent as rejected boyfriend Jared and not-so-closet gay Rock. Lemuel Knights revels in his role as camp co-ordinator Mike, showcasing both a 'straight is great' t-shirt and some beautiful, raspy vocals and Tiffany Graves also shines as the tyrannical Mary Brown.

New musicals are often notoriously difficult to produce, but Bill Augustin's lyrics and Andrew Abrams music capture the zeitgeist of the show perfectly. Many songs are veritable earworms, such as "Step 2: Pink and Blue" that neatly exposes gender stereotypes and the exuberant finale "Cheer". Not every song works; "Wrestling" is performed very well by Aaron Teoh, but feels like a filler and the drag anthem "Raise Your Flag" has positive lyrics, but forgettable music.

Some of the show could be trimmed, such as Megan's overly long dream sequence about Graham, but Tania Azevedo's direction is pacy, with an energy that never lets up. This feels like a much bigger show, squeezed into a small space. The action often spills out off the stage, as though the energy cannot quite be contained.

David Shield's design is economical but very effective, using every inch of the Turbine space. There is a clever use of props, many of which double-up in use. Martha Godfrey's bubblegum pink and bright blue lighting echoes the film's original aesthetic and gives a real vibrancy to the show.

But I'm A Cheerleader: The Musical is not a perfect show, but it is a genuine celebration of queerness and sits firmly on the side of satire. It is a truly exciting new production, brimming with potential.

But I'm A Cheerleader: The Musical is at the Turbine Theatre until 16 April

Photo Credit: Mark Senior

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