Bring It On
For pure fun on Broadway, Bring It On is definitely the way to go.
The book by Jeff Whitty is snappy; the score by Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green is clever and catchy; the direction and choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler is fluid and super energetic. Bring It On is nothing incredibly sophisticated or important with regard to artistic expression or musical theatre history, but that’s okay. Sometimes, shows are meant to be entertaining, and this is. This is “fun fluff” of the best kind.
As noted in the Playbill, Bring It On: The Musical is "inspired" by the 2000 Kirsten Dunst-Gabrielle Union movie, and that’s actually accurate. The plot of the musical diverges a great deal from the movie, and as such works better at focusing the story and bringing out the heart. In the musical, Campbell (Taylor Louderman) is a senior at Truman High, the high school for the affluent and mostly white suburban crowd. She’s captain of its cheerleading squad, and has aspirations of winning nationals, which she thinks is her life’s purpose. Redistricting forces Campbell to attend Jackson High, home to the more diverse urban population. Jackson doesn’t have a cheerleading squad, but Danielle (Adrienne Warren) is head of the school’s dance crew. Trying to fit in and find her purpose, Campbell joins the crew and soon convinces them to become a squad and compete in nationals. Of course, because it’s high school (and because we need some dramatic intrigue), all sorts of lies, backstabbing, love connections and soul searching abound, all while Campbell tries to find her place in this world - something we can all relate to.
Bringing the story to life is a terrific and spirited cast, almost all of whom are making their Broadway (or even theatrical) debut. Musical theatre performers mix with veteran dancers and award-winning collegiate cheerleaders, and the cheer stunts they perform are nothing short of breathtaking. Without a harness, safety net or other theatrical trickery, these kids show you just what kind of amazing things humans can do.
And aside from the stunts, the show boasts some standout performances. Both Louderman and Warren impress as the strong female leads, but supporting actors Gregory Haney (the fierce La Cienega), Nicolas Womack (the urban romantic Twig), Elle McLemore (the scheming Eva) and Ryann Redmond (the plump and spirited Bridget) steal the show. (That, I suppose, is saying a lot given the incredible cheer stunts. It’s also a testament to the creative team that they didn’t let the stunts overtake the meat of the show - the storytelling.)
Bring It On doesn’t take itself too seriously, though. You can tell from Jeff Whitty’s book that the creative team knows this is meant to be fun and not profound. Whenever moments border on the saccharine, there’s some cheeky bit to bring it back home. (Whitty, of course, is no stranger to the humor-heart mix: he won a Tony for writing Avenue Q’s book.)
The scenic design by David Korins is complemented by Jeff Sugg’s video design, both of which are well integrated into the show, keeping the musical moving along. Blankenbuehler’s direction and choreography are also fluid and find the multi-shaped kids dancing on lockers and cheering all over the sparse stage.
Of course, Bring It On is a musical so let’s talk about that for a moment. (Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music; Miranda and Amanda Green wrote the lyrics.) I had mixed expectations. On the one hand, Tom Kitt co-wrote the music. Tom Kitt is a genius, and won the Tony and Pulitzer for Next to Normal. On the other hand, this is Bring It On: The Musical. And it turns out the music falls somewhere in between.
The score is deficient in its lack of orchestrations. While Kitt and Alex Lacamoire provide sufficient arrangements and orchestrations, I wish there was a full orchestra playing, giving the score a richer and less synthetic sound. (Instead, we have a keyboard providing the horn section. That’s hardly satisfying.)
That deficiency not withstanding, the score is solid. Kitt presents some truly interesting musical phrasing, which is nicely paired with Green and Miranda’s straightforward lyrics; and Miranda brings authentic street-cred to the hip-hop beats and lyrics, churning out rhythms and rhymes his hip-hop heroes would be proud of. (I also really like the fact that the songs accompanying the showdown cheers are original songs, helping to keep the focus on the incredible cheer stunts, rather than having audience members thinking, “Oh, I know that song!” And it doesn’t hurt that Kitt and Miranda alumni Alysha Umphress (American Idiot) and Joshua Henry (American Idiot, In the Heights) provide the vocals for the two tracks.)
While Bring It On may not go in the pantheon of American Musical Theatre, it is so much fun. This is a great choice for families coming to see a Broadway show and it’s a boon to touring companies and high schools. So get those spirit fingers out and get ready to cheer for the immensely entertaining Bring It On.
Bring It On is currently playing a limited summer engagement at the St James Theatre. It runs through October 7. Visit bringitonmusical.com for more information and to purchase tickets.