Bring It On: The Musical | Theater review
In an improbable pairing, the Pulitzer Prize meets competitive cheerleading in a new Broadway touring production.
Bring It On: The Musical, based on the 2000 cult-hit film of the same name, features the work of Tony Award-winning heavy hitters Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), and Tom Kitt, who was also awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his score for the musical Next to Normal. Also adding to the star factor are So You Think You Can Dance alums Neil Haskell and Ariana DeBose, who make appearances in the young cast.
In a twist of fate ala Friday Night Lights season three, popular cheerleading captain Campbell (Taylor Louderman) finds her perfect-pyramid world toppling after a mysterious visit from the re-districting gods, who force her to transfer from white-bread high school Truman to rough-‘n’-tumble Jackson, where there’s nary a squad to be found. Also made to transfer is Bridget (Ryann Redmond), a chubby cheer groupie relegated to the mascot role by self-proclaimed cheerleader "bee-otch" Skylar.
Another unlikely duo, the teens team up to traverse the hip-hop-filled halls of their new school where Bridget’s milkshake—more accurately, her junk in the trunk— brings all the boys to the yard, rocking both Campbell’s confidence and smooth talker Twig’s (Nicolas Womack) baggy trousers. Even the three fabulous ladies of the unofficial hip-hop dance crew—Danielle (Adrienne Warren), Nautica (Ariana DeBose), and the charming La Cienega (Gregory Haney)—prefer Bridget’s quirkiness to Campbell’s corniness.
Campbell’s acceptance eventually arrives after a bit of hazing, including a sick dance number in an over-sized leprechaun suit at the behest of lead fly girl Danielle. But just as we’re beginning to feel warm and fuzzy again—BAM!—more twists. Treachery! Duplicity! Awkward love songs with former nerds! True to the film, there’s drama until the end.
The drama’s one of the only elements that mirrors the original, which isn’t a bad thing. After all, high-school culture has gone through big changes in the last 12 years. Most notably: the Internet. Twitter, Face Time, Facebook, MP3 and even "emo" references are scattered throughout the production, providing a current time stamp, though adults will have fun picking out the nods to classic productions such as Chorus Line and All About Eve. Word of warning: The stage adaptation also maintains the PG-13 rating of the film. So if you’re uncomfortable with your kid hearing the b-word or fairly tame sexual innuendo, this one might not be for you.
The most compelling update is the addition of transgender Jackson cheerleader La Cienega who, along with underdog Bridget, brings the house down during "It Ain’t No Thing," an anthem to diversity and the confidence to be yourself. It’s easily the best song in the show, even though it lacks the high-flying tosses and acrobatics found in some of the cheer competition numbers.
That said, Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography during those competition numbers is a force to be reckoned with. The flips, jumps, extensions and tosses will have kids on the edges of their seats, clapping along. Though the two-hour-plus running time might seem a bit excessive, the story’s quick pace, dotted with said acrobatic feats, will keep young audience members captivated (and also help to distract from some of the naughtier references).
Bring It On: The Musical runs through March 25 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. For more information, visit broadwayinchicago.com.