Unless fun is anathema to you, you will have a hard time not enjoying the vim and vigor of Bring It On! The Musical. The show, well, brings it. The fact that the director, Andy Blankenbuehler, is also the show’s choreographer should communicate to what extent. Performers are airborne or busting a move for most of their stage time, making for a pretty pumped up rendition of the high school triumph story (though fans of Glee, High School Musical, etc. will no doubt feel right at home). Of course, that also means a few songs sung a bit out of breath, but I think you’d have to be pretty stingy not to forgive it. As much as this is pure entertainment (and, as many will immediately realize, based on the popular movie franchise), the show also comes with some serious Broadway street cred.
Folks who like “Bring It On!’s” run, should definitely check out “In the Heights” coming to the Walton Arts Center in March, since Lin-Manuel Miranda did the music for both. Blankenbuehler also has “In the Heights” to thank for his Tony. Here, Miranda collaborates with another Tony Award-winning composer, Tom Kitt (who additionally won a Pulitzer for one of my all-time favorite musicals, “Next to Normal“). Jeff Whitty, the librettist who wrote all the snarky things the cheerleaders say, also won a Tony, for a little show called “Avenue Q.”
Kirsten Dunst addicts from the original motion picture should be warned: the musical definitely does its own thing, as one of the songs attests. This cast is pretty good at it, too. You can tell, I think, when a cast is having fun. This show is certainly an example of that. Campbell, the team captain of a privileged winning school played by Taylor Lourderman, has to revamp when she is redistricted to a more multicultural high school that doesn’t have a cheerleading team. Adrienne Warren’s Danielle is the queen bee she finds she must win over – and Warren, who originated the role, has it down pat.
Several characters really come to life as glamorously bantering teenagers: Gregory Haney’s La Cienega, gives a fantastic performance as the fierce, booty shaking drag queen of Danielle’s crew; Kate Rockwell’s Skylar gets the best of the snarky lines, and doesn’t waste a one; and, Elle McLemore’s solo number was a stellar turn, her character among my favorites as the conniving Eva. But, Ryann Redmond gives perhaps the most solid performance as the under-appreciated Bridget, the only other girl to be transferred with Campbell to Jackson High. Her development is both the most comic and the most touching.
The set is necessarily spare for the performers to have room enough to get all athletic and aerial, so mainly, it consists of drop-down screens (highlighted by a Skype session between Campbell and her teammates) and a few lockers, for that look-I’m-still-in-high-school feel. A couple of times the screens were distracting, and occasionally, they didn’t seem effective at all. But, they did make the cheer competition scenes pop. Still, this isn’t really your show if you’re a set design gal or guy. Also, many of the audience, being at either early or advance stages of a cheerleading career themselves, will likely applaud at some of the romantic scenes of the second act… and after every song. But, that was just part of the fun. All in all, this show is a good time. Nothing wrong with that in my book.
Bring It On! The Musical will be showing at the Walton Arts Center through Feb. 12. Parents should be aware of language and sexual content in this show. Get your tickets at waltonartscenter.org.