Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review of "Bring it On"

With high-flying flips and aerial maneuvers, Bring It On, the new musical inspired by the popular movie of the same name, is fitfully appealing.  At times stereotypical, at other points refreshing and engaging, the show has a hard time settling into one coherent identity.  The big draw of the production, which will appeal greatly to the pre-teen and teenage crowd, are the highly choreographed cheerleading routines.  For the most part, they provide the pizzazz to the musical though by the final curtain you may have had enough of the precision numbers.

The plot centers on two competing high school cheerleading squads.  Campbell, played with a determined enthusiasm by Taylor Louderman, is about to start her senior year as captain of the school’s cheerleading team.  But, with a mysterious twist of fate she and a friend Bridget, portrayed with a bubbly eagerness by Ryann Redmond, are suddenly redistricted across town to the inner city high school that has no squad.  Determined to fit in with the mostly African-American and Latino student population proves daunting at first until she befriends Danielle, who is the leader of the school’s hip-hop dance crew.  She is played with a gritty fortitude and toughness, edged with a layer of warmth and caring by Adrienne Warren.  Together, after much teenage angst and bonding, they form a cheerleading squad so Campbell can compete with her old high school team, now led by her scheming protégé, Eva, a plotting minx portrayed with evil relish by Elle McLemore.  There are new boyfriends, subplots, and more, but the focus is on the associations Campbell and Bridget have once they transfer to their new surroundings at Jackson High.   Their interactions with the new student population are characterized by more honest teenage depictions and feelings.  At their former school the students are more the boilerplate variety as exemplified by the self-centered blonde Skylar; and her frumpy follower, Kylar.

But the emphasis of Bring It On is the world of extreme cheerleading and that is when the show shines.  These daredevil routines bring the musical to life since they are mostly combined with the sizzling choreography of Director/Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.  His urban, street smart feel, epitomized in his Tony Award winning dance sequences for In the Heights, produce some of the best production numbers of the early Broadway season.  His direction of the musical, however, is more perfunctory. 

Bring It On could be described as high-powered fluff.  But, in addition to Andy Blankenbuehler, it has a notable creative team behind the scenes.  The score is by Tom Kitt (Tony Award for Best Score and Pulitzer Prize for Next to Normal), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tony Award for Best Score for In the Heights), and Amanda Green.  The book is by Jeff Whitty (Tony for Best Book of a musical for Avenue Q).  It is interesting the aforementioned group would be involved in such a light-weight concoction.  Jeff Whitty’s libretto fluctuates between the standard formula for teenage crisis and concern and the more realistic portrayal of the post-pubescent crowd.  The score, while not the caliber of the team’s previous work, is well-crafted and tuneful, providing some appealing songs to augment the action on stage. 

Bring it On—a spotty, yet exuberant musical more for the middle to high school crowd then those with more sophisticated taste.

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