High school is never easy and, as Truman High's head cheerleader Campbell (the perfectly blonde Taylor Louderman) finds out, it's especially hard when last minute redistricting means you now have to attend inner-city Jackson High where there is no cheerleading! With a book by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) and Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), Bring It On: The Musical is bubbly, choreographed and -- except for the occasional "biotch" to remind us that it's high school -- clean, G-rated fun.
The mostly teen and 20-something set that made up the audience was ready to rah, rah, rah even before the start of the show; clearly they were familiar with the story's bones from the Bring It On movies. Whole cheer squads came and were thrilled by director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler's high intensity leaps, lifts and flips. But that high-flying excellence was used in almost every scene, which meant that the finale lacked that necessary wow-factor finish.
Once at her new school it takes Campbell time to convince Jackson's dance crew captain Danielle (the wonderful Adrienne Warren) to convert into a cheer squad but, after promises of a lucrative commercial deal, Danielle agrees. We can assume that the transition was difficult and fraught with tension, but that is not evident in the show. Everything just seems to fall easily into place.
Miranda and Kitt, along with lyricist Amanda Green (Miranda wrote lyrics as well), do a good job of weaving together suburban preppy numbers with the more urban street hip-hop beats but costume designer Andrea Lauer can't seem to decide what era she's in. 80's surfer jackets, 90's inspired parachute pants, together with simple cotton flower print dresses for Campbell, don't look like today's generation of teens.
Solid performances come from stop-at-nothing-to-be-cheer-captain Eva (Elle McLemore) as well as chubby, cast aside Bridget (the glorious Ryann Redmond) who is pleasantly surprised to find that her ample curves are more than appreciated by the boys at Jackson, where she has also been transferred. Redmond has a strong voice and does some amazing vocal gymnastics – not to mention some stupendous actual gymnastics toward the end of the show. The very funny and talented Nicolas Womack plays Twig who moves and grooves his way into her heart.
Kate Rockwell is perfect as the pampered and privileged Skylar who excuses her meanness by saying, "I'm bitchy right – but my kind of bitchy is meant to be helpful." Interestingly she doesn't turn her "helpful" nastiness on transgendered La Cienega (played to perfection by Gregory Haney). In fact no one questions the fact that La Cienega competes as a girl in a national competition, which seems strange – and refreshing all at the same time.
While Bring It On is fun to watch the characters are grooved too lightly onto the surface of the show, making it hard to connect and feel for them in any meaningful way. At one point dance captain Danielle says the lines, "I got my strength from that struggle," but we never really get to see any real struggle for her - or the other characters for that matter.
Too, cultural disparity is never addressed. There's no dawning realization on preppy Campbell's part of what life is really like for kids that have to go through metal detectors before they can go to class and no acknowledgement of what it must be like for them to be in the spotlight for the first time at a national championship.
Bring It On may go through a few more iterations on its way to Broadway, which may give its creators a chance to deepen the grooves a bit more. It's already got height - if cheerleaders flying through the air are any indication. All it needs is a little more heart.