Bring It On: The Musical Is a Silly, Soaring Celebration of Blood, Sweat and Cheers
It may never win a Tony but Bring It On: The Musical deserves a solid gold spirit stick for mixing the dynamic moves of those cheerleading competitions on ESPN with the happy-peppy singing and dancing by the kids on Glee. The national tour of the show, only loosely based on the movie starring Kirsten Dunst, opened last night at the Music Hall at Fair Park, where it plays through February 26.
The production started at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre a couple of years ago. It's a team effort by solid young Broadway show-makers, with libretto by Avenue Q Tony winner Jeff Whitty; music by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights); lyrics by Amanda Green and Miranda. Andy Blankenbuehler, currently Broadway's hottest director-choreographer, incorporates the high-flying gymnastics of competitive cheerleading (half the dancers have backgrounds in big-time college cheerleading) with the sharp angles and smooth grooves of hip-hop. This show moves, baby. It stacks hot bodies up in three-level pyramids then flips them up and over their pretty young heads.
About the only thing the musical shares with the movie (and its straight-to-video sequels) is the "us against them" cheerleading squads. Head cheer-tator Campbell (beautiful big-voiced blond Taylor Louderman) has to start over again when redistricting moves her from wealthy white Truman High to urban, cheer-squad-free Jackson High. How she makes friends with a crew of hip-hop dancers and convinces them to become a winning team of cheerleaders going to a national competish is the basic plot - as thin as the white line cheerleaders shouldn't cross on the floor at the big contest.
Both borrowing from and cleverly sending up the sickly-sweet you-can-do-it themes of shows like High School Musical and Hairspray, Bring It On also is smart enough to work in some All about Eve. A deceptively innocent Truman High cheerleader, Eva (Elle McLemore), turns evil as she knocks out her rivals one by one. In the finale, Eva and Campbell get their faceoff as Truman and Jackson Highs both compete at national finals. The rivalry is so intense, it sends Truman squad member Skylar (Kate Rockwell) into a tizzy, saying, "I am so upset I am actually going to go eat something."
The one the audience pulls for most, however, is Bridget, the chubby misfit played by the terrifically funny Ryann Redmond, who also has a knockout voice. Hidden under the giant parrot head of the school mascot costume at Truman, Bridget had no chance to shine. But forced to transfer to booty-appreciating Jackson High, Bridget gains a boyfriend and a spot at the front of the cheerleading team. Her newfound status is befuddling. "I'm confused," says Bridget, "which makes me neurotic and weird, which could lead to my own very special episode of Hoarders by the time I'm 21."
Campbell's transformation comes with her unlikely alliance with the sassy Danielle (Adrienne Warren), the queen bee of Jackson's hive. When they first meet, Danielle lets Campbell know that she has no respect for the rah-rah types, belting the number "We Ain't No Cheerleaders," backed up by dance crew members Nautica (Ariana DeBose) and La Cienega (Gregory Haney in girl-drag).
Whitty provides lots of teen-idiom snark in the girls' dialogue - for realzies - and Green and Miranda's lyrics tumble out with the fast, fun rhymes of Eminem's best raps, like pairing "pastime" with "shake that ass time."
Sure the second act drags a bit. There are too many bonding ballads between characters. And in the final round of the "nationals," we see only one side compete because there are only so many cast members and, except for the leads, they all play members of each squad.
Where Bring It On shines is its powerful dance routines, with girls tossed 20 feet in the air, twirling and kicking in unison before they're caught by their burly spotters and set down as gently as ballet dancers. The aerials are eye-popping. And the costumes just get glitzier in the second half. By the final number, when Campbell has become the Spider-Man of cheerleaders, it's a pyrotechnic display of human shooting up and over each other with terrifying, thrilling accuracy.
Brint It On: The Musical continues through February 26 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. For tickets, call 800-982-ARTS or go to www.ticketmaster.com.