As fun as you imagine a cheerleading All About Eve musical could be, Bring It On turns out to be real gag-me-with-a-spoon, fuck-me-gently-with-a-chainsaw bummer. An eclectic creative team of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Co-Composer, Co-Lyricist), Tom Kitt (Co, Composer, Co-Arranger/Orchestrator), Jeff Whitty, (Librettist), Amanda Green (Co-Lyricist) and Andy Blankenbuehler (Director, Choreographer) tried to put pep and vigor into this show, but the Jekyll and Hyde story and a dull leading character prevent it from ever getting the high-flying lift it needs.
A stand-up comedian friend of mine used to say we all had a default genre for movies. A genre that no matter how bad the film looked we'd go see it because it was OUR genre. For me, it's teen movies. I'm super-snobby about a lot of things but give me a prom-related subplot in anything and I'm there. Naturally I had seen the film Bring It On. Conveniently my cousins' teen daughters were visiting me for the weekend and for their Broadway show of choice they selected Bring It On (no matter how many times I tried to convince them to see Newsies). It delivered for the teens with a cute boy as the love interest, crazy cheerleading moves (which involved throwing small women up into the rafters), some great hip-hop lyrics, and a few sassy lines. For me, I was bored by the lackluster show about a bratty teen who has some life lessons to learn.
The story revolves around Campbell (Taylor Louderman) whose life's dream is to be a cheer captain and win the National Cheerleading Championships. She leads the team at Truman High which is made up of Über-bitch Skyler (Kate Rockwell), follower Kylar (Janet Krupin) and perennial mascot Bridget (Ryann Redmond). Campbell decides to let her little next door neighbor Eva (Elle McLemore) join the squad even if she's not the best yet. Campbell believes in her. However, just as Campbell's dreams are coming true she finds out she has been redistricted. She is sent to the other school in town, Jackson High, that does not have a cheerleading squad. THE HORROR. At her new school she finds a talented hip-hop dance crew led by Danielle (Adrienne Warren) and tries to convince them to become cheerleaders so they can go to Nationals. Campbell has a sneaking suspicion that maybe someone orchestrated her ouster from Truman and becomes even more driven to get to Nationals.
I never liked Avenue Q by librettist Whitty and the book here was my biggest problem. Man was it hard to get on board with this protagonist and her aspirations. She was not a fully fleshed out character and no matter what she said and did I found her to be silly, frivolous and frankly quite dull. She was not a heroine or anti-heroine I could get interested in and her redemption comes far too late for me. My dream
would have been to have had the writing staff from Awkward. write the
book for this show. The writing in that TV show, with it's ridiculous slang, knowing characters and grounded teens, is fresh, fun and smart (if you're not watching that show on MTV you are missing out). This show needed a tone--any tone. More snark, more sass, more substance. Instead it was bubble gum bland. We got far too many songs about Campbell and her stupid dream and I never got invested in her or her lame journey.
However, Campbell is surrounded by interesting and likable (or love to hate) characters .
Goofy mascot Bridget was a lot of fun and
as performed by Redmond, she was endearing and got most of the big laugh
lines. The remainder of the big laughs went to Gregory Hainey playing
La Cienega, a transgender student (thankfully her gender identity was
used mostly to suggest that this was a school where someone different
could still fit in with the cool kids--though I kind of wish we could
move away from the bitchy queen stereotype at times). Warren as
Danielle had a lot of charisma but a lot less stage time. Frankly I'd
rather have seen a musical about her and her dance crew's aspirations. I
liked the stereotypical bitch that Kate Rockwell portrayed. She had a
lot of fun with her character. But all these characters existed more on the fringe and were not enough to carry the show.
It took until the 6th musical number for me to start to warm up to this
show. I loved the number "Do Your Own Thing" and suddenly the languid
pace was dialed up a bit. The promise of this new setting at Jackson
High was definitely a breath of fresh air. But every time the pendulum
swung back to life at Truman High I lost interest again. Moving to a
new school where individuality was celebrated and respected
was really interesting. But that was
the problem, everything around Campbell was a lot more compelling to me
than she was. The hip-hop lyrics brought a lot of the energy but it was
not enough to get the whole show moving. The cheerleading stunts are
crowd-pleasers. But no matter how high you throw someone in the air, it
does not necessarily mean I won't be super-bored as you do so.
Eventually the story ends up being about friendship, dreams, and how life is not really about what you thought was important in your teen years. It's a worthwhile message but it gets delivered in a boring bottle blond package. Do yourself a favor. Instead, rent All About Eve and then watch the entire first season of Awkward. You're welcome.