Custodians at the St. James Theatre should probably check one extra thing these days before locking up for the night: Make sure there aren't any cheerleaders stuck up in the rafters.
Such is the huge air the performers get in "Bring It On: The Musical" that it might be wise to constantly do a head count.
A lot of theatergoers will share that bouncy feeling when leaving the infectious if not-very-groundbreaking musical comedy that opened Wednesday and is inspired by the cheerleading movie franchise. It has heart – likely beating very, very fast – surrounding a new stage hybrid: Pro-cheerleading married to old fashioned Broadway.
Like all good pyramids, the base is key and "Bring It On: The Musical" has some of the best in the business anchoring this show, which is making a stop on Broadway following a 13-city national tour.
For the music, there's Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, who spearheaded "In the Heights"; Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Kitt of "Next to Normal"; and lyricist Amanda Green, who teamed up with Kitt for "High Fidelity."
An original story by Tony winner Jeff Whitty of "Avenue Q" fame is directed and choreographed by Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler from "In the Heights." Toss in a bunch of cheerleading professionals – and we do mean toss – and you've got a show about young people finding themselves that is sometimes sarcastic, sometimes post-ironic, often hip-hopish and yet also traditionally structured. Nothing too subversive, nothing too twee.
Taylor Louderman plays a lily white cheer queen from Truman High School, who is redistricted into a more urban school district the summer she is supposed to take over the squad as captain. Thrust into the unfamiliar Jackson High School, she reaches out to Danielle, the queen bee there (Adrienne Warren) who runs her own dance crew.
They unite to compete as cheerleaders and take on Truman. They both also learn valuable lessons about being less of a spazzy basket-case. Campbell has a romance, but it's sort of tacked on.
There are, of course, several nods to the artifice of the plot: "You know what this reminds me of?" Danielle says at one point. "Those movies, you know what I'm saying, where the white dude or white lady makes a trip to the scary `inner city' and, you know, fixes dem colored folks right up!" But rather than shake up this cliche, the writers are happy just noting it and then tumbling along. The insane stunts cover up a lack of book innovation.
There are a few artful touches in this conventional story – you likely will never look at another leprechaun mascot the same – and some strong songs, but not enough of them.
Basically, the show drags a bit until Miranda takes over writing the songs alone. His fish-out-of-water tune "Do Your Own Thing," his anthemic "It's All Happening" and his hectic "Cross the Line" toward the end can't help but make the blood move.
The songs' creators have said that their footprints are everywhere in the score, so any attempt to correctly identify one verse or melody as coming from a single author is hopeless. And it's true that Kitt and Green do spread their wings into hip-hop, but Miranda's start-stop poetic cadences are easily apparent in the character Twig, who has a few moments of inspired rap, especially the lines "Ya think cheerin' is feminine?/Then I'm a feminist/Swimmin'-in-women, gentleman!"
And kudos to Kitt and Green for "It Ain't No Thing," an empowering, funny blues song about a chubby girl finding her strut. "Got pretty eyes but thunder thighs/It ain't no thing, yeah!"
Louderman is fine in the Kirsten Dunst-ish role of Campbell, especially for keeping clear notes while being held up by three men, though she could lose a lot of the wimpiness she gives Campbell. And Warren is a tad severe in her delivery, but also makes a strong Broadway newbie.
Even so, some in the supporting cast threaten to derail their drama, especially Ryann Redmond as a sort of wonderfully goofy female Josh Gad, and the pocket-sized Elle McLemore, who comes close to channeling Kristin Chenoweth. They've got competition from super-egotistical Kate Rockwell, who plays the "raging, castrating bee-yotch" Skylar who utters the great line: "Sometimes being pretty is enough."
But perhaps the biggest diva in this bunch is Gregory Haney, who plays the transgender cheerleader La Cienega with such good will and humor that you'll want him in every scene. (What's wrong with "Bring It On: La Cienega"?)
Blankenbuehler has nicely melded the high level of bold handsprings and human pyramids that usually appear on ESPN cheer shows with the more funky and modern dance moves of "So You Think You Can Dance." The tempo switches up nicely all night and all the stage is used – not to mention as high as the St. James Theatre proscenium will go.
Though there are few sets since this is a touring show, the production never seems threadbare, mostly thanks to a set of four screens that smartly act as bedroom walls, school hallways and streets. (Though one recent preview had a few screens malfunction, with bursts of incorrect info flashing.) The clean lines are somewhat confused by a set of white girders that hang over the show for no apparent reason.
Cheerleaders got crushed last season on Broadway when "Lysistrata Jones" hit the mat hard and never recovered. But "Bring It On: The Musical" has more – more athletics, more songs, more dazzle, more interesting characters. Someone may just need to regularly count the cheerleaders.
Tumbling and tucking, somersaulting and soaring, they’re racing for gold.
No, not the Olympic gymnasts, but the cast of “Bring It On: The Musical,” which spins (often in midair) around competitive high school cheerleaders.
Running through Oct. 7 at the St. James following several stops on a national tour, the show brings a lot to like: A crew of talented Broadway newbies, a blast of infectious feel-good and, most memorably, dazzling dancing and cheering-squad routines.
Indeed, the show nails it whenever it’s in motion. Simply singing, it’s more standard fare. Too bad since the songwriters are hardly run-of-the-mill.
The score is a three-way effort from the Tony-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda of “In the Heights” and Tom Kitt, the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer of “Next to Normal,” along with lyricist Amanda Green of “High Fidelity.” Songs are serviceable more than memorable.
The book is another story. Jeff Whitty, who’s got his own Tony for “Avenue Q,” is on his A-game. His script, which shows a keen ear for teen-speak, is topical, toothy and consistently giggle-inducing.
Inspired by the 2000 film “Bring It On,” the musical’s creators kept the bones of the plot. Then they re-invented and dipped into other proven wells. Like “Wicked” for Chick Power and “All About Eve” for Girl-on-Girl Sabotage.
The story follows Campbell (a terrific Taylor Louderman), a well-bred and white-bread senior at Truman High School.
Her lifelong dream is leading her cheering squad to nationals victory — and she’s nearly there. Then, a glitch and she’s exiled to inner-city Jackson High. Pity for Campbell, great for the show. Instead of her soupy solo ballads, juicy R&B and hip-hop rhythms flow. Everything clicks, everything grooves.
In a show that also emphasizes Team Power, director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (“In the Heights”) deserves snaps for assembling such a bright young squad who freshen up familiar types.
Adrienne Warren shines as sassy and soulful Danielle, who teaches and learns a thing or two from Campbell. Elle McLemore brings the loony as Campbell’s nemesis and Kate Rockwell is a hoot as a teen goddess whose motto is “Sometimes pretty is enough.” The delightful Ryann Redmond all but steals the show as an outcast-turned-cool-girl.
There’d be no show without powerhouse rah-rah veterans who make the high-rise human pyramids and wild throws and lifts look easy as breathing. It’s these stunts that set this show apart from “Lysistrata Jones,” last season’s cheerleader-themed show.
“Bring It On” doesn’t break new ground, but it kept me smiling. Sometimes pretty silly — and very acrobatic — is enough.
Imagine a musical called “Twilight” that had generic vampires instead of Bella and Edward. That’s pretty much what happens with “Bring It On — The Musical,” which has little in common with the movie “Bring It On” other than feats of aerial gymnastics, the hallmark of competitive cheerleading.
Cheerleaders aren’t new on Broadway: Just a few months ago, they popped up in the irreverent, short-lived musical “Lysistrata Jones.”
The new show is quite different, and celebrates the sport’s athleticism. Its cast is stuffed with actual cheerleaders, and the tumbles, tosses and high-flying routines are breathtaking.
Getting from one number to the next, on the other hand, is a grind. Too many characters get a piece of action, and the score by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights”), Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) and Amanda Green (“High Fidelity”) is an uneasy juxtaposition of sentimental pop-rock and light-hearted hip-hop.
Merely “inspired” by the film, the book by Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”) basically takes two teen tropes — the fish out of water, learning to accept yourself — and dresses them up in cute little pleated skirts.
Campbell (the charming Taylor Louderman) is a white cheering captain who, along with Bridget (scene-stealer Ryann Redmond), the compulsory chubby friend, is “redistricted” to an urban high school.
She trades one clichéd entourage for another.
Before, Campbell was surrounded by a sea of blondes, like scheming Eva (Elle McLemore, a Kristin Chenoweth mini-me) and queen-bee Skylar (Kate Rockwell).
Now she’s hanging out with fierce Danielle (Adrienne Warren, the show’s strongest singer), hip-hop loudmouth Twig (Nicolas Womack) and sassy transgender sidekick La Cienega (the riotous Gregory Haney).
No need for a spoiler alert: There will be a reckoning between the two schools at Nationals. By the end, “Omigod, everyone’s gone through all this, like, personal growth,” Skylar points out. “But I’m exactly the same person I was a year ago.”
Directed and choreographed by another “In the Heights” alum, Andy Blankenbuehler, “Bring It On” originated in Atlanta and spent the past year on tour. It shows. Instead of actual sets, we get cheap-looking projections on four giant LCD screens. The small, synth-heavy band often sounds like a 10-year-old ringtone.
On the other hand, life on the road has gelled the cast, which is likable and very tight. The actors even make most of the time-wasting ponderous songs — and there’s a lot of those in the slow second act — feel semi-bearable.
Between them and those gymnastics, “Bring It On” pulls off a decent landing — even if it’s not a Hollywood ending.
Cheerleading, that most American of pastimes, is not likely to become an Olympic sport anytime soon. Yet the highly acrobatic, gasp-inducing style of sis-boom-bah competition celebrated in “Bring It On: The Musical,” which opened Wednesday night at the St. James Theater, almost makes you believe that it should be. The cast of this alternately snarky and sentimental show about rival high school cheer squads often seems to be in constant motion, tumbling and flipping across the stage in elaborate routines that culminate in towering formations of human pyramids.
Such high-energy gymnastics are the animating force — and the primary distinguishing element — in this peppy teen-angst musical aimed squarely at the “Glee” demographic: adolescents, their chaperones and the nostalgically adolescent. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) This would obviously include the devoted fans of the movie on which the new musical — like almost every new musical, I’m tempted to add — is based.
Scan the credits of this featherweight concoction, however, and musical-theater aficionados are likely to be surprised by the heavyweight pedigree of several of its creators: the score is a tag-team effort by Tom Kitt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer of the crazy-mom musical “Next to Normal”; Lin-Manuel Miranda, the lyricist and composer of the Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer finalist “In the Heights”; and Amanda Green (the Broadway-bound “Hands on a Hardbody”), the lyricist daughter of the great Adolph Green. The book is written by Jeff Whitty, who took home a Tony for the satirical post-collegiate musical “Avenue Q.” Andy Blankenbuehler, who provided the zesty choreography for “In the Heights,” also takes on the directing chores here.
While it has its moments of memorable wit and some appealing rhythmic Broadway-pop songs, “Bring It On” is by no means in the same league as those musicals, and has the feel of a daffy lark embarked upon as a summer-vacation goof. (The show started out in Atlanta in January 2011 and has been touring the country; I first caught up with it in Los Angeles last November.)
A grave warning for cultish devotees of the movie and its several sequels: while the musical is “inspired” by the film, it is by no means a stage facsimile of it. Aside from the title and the cheerleading, the musical is almost wholly original, if you can call original a show that relies so blithely on the familiar formulas (and clichés) of fictional depictions of adolescence.
The heroine Campbell (Taylor Louderman) sings of her longstanding dream of becoming head cheerleader of the Truman High School squad in the show’s opening moments. After achieving her ideal — defeating her mean-girl rival Skylar (Kate Rockwell), who takes the loss in stride, so preeningly assured is she of her own perfection — Campbell begins drilling her team for the national championships at a summer cheer camp.
But horrors! Just before the school season begins, Campbell receives a letter announcing that because of redistricting, she will be forced to attend Jackson High, a nearby school in a far rougher neighborhood. The big OMG — horror is too tame a word to describe this calamity — is that Jackson does not even have a cheerleading squad.
This is obviously devastating news for Campbell, but it’s good news for “Bring It On,” which hits an exciting musical groove when Campbell begins mixing it up with the tougher crowd from Jackson, whose ringleader is Danielle (Adrienne Warren), the head of the school’s hip-hop dance crew. Although the score is collectively credited to all three contributors, Mr. Miranda’s more urban-influenced R&B moves to the fore, and his ability to spin out clever rhymed raps by the yard drives the most propulsive sequences in the show, including a deliriously odd number in which Campbell proves her willingness to play with the gang by dressing up in the school’s leprechaun mascot outfit and getting down.
“Bring It On” trots merrily through several predictable subplots about bonding across the social and racial divide. Campbell, the consummate insider, is suddenly the awkward outsider anxious about fitting in, while her fellow redistrictee, the chubby Bridget (an endearing Ryann Redmond), finds the outré fashion sense that qualified her as a freak at Truman gives her some street cachet at Jackson. Both girls acquire adoring, cute boyfriends with skin tones a few shades darker than theirs, and Campbell convinces Danielle to transform the dance crew into a cheer squad. She’s determined to outwit the perky, genially evil Eva (Elle McLemore, doing her best Kristin Chenoweth), Campbell’s former protégée whose scheming has brought her to the top of the Truman cheer pyramid.
Mr. Whitty has the good sense to poke fun at the musical’s well-worn narrative dynamics. As the show moves to its inevitable cheer-off climax, the self-satisfied Skylar reflects, “Omigod, everyone’s gone through all this, like, personal growth, but I’m exactly the same person I was a year ago.” Beaming a bright smile, she adds, “Oh well! I like myself. Always did.”
Ms. Rockwell bites into her role with pert, enjoyable mean spirits, and Ms. McLemore does the same as the more outrageously scheming Eva. As the drag queen La Cienega — embraced by the supposedly rough crowd at Jackson with preposterous warmth — Gregory Haney also gets his fair share of ingratiating, sassy-snappy dialogue. The central roles are more generically written, but Ms. Louderman and Ms. Warren are warm, likable presences.
It’s when the cast members drop the bonding and the mean-girl bitching to take part in Mr. Blankenbuehler’s exciting cheerleading routines, arranging themselves into dazzling human starbursts, that “Bring It On” really brings something fresh to the ever-expanding roster of shows aimed at the teenage demographic. The precision and daring with which they fling themselves into the air and engage in breathtaking runs of back flips across the wide St. James stage give the musical a real kick. Even those with dark memories of the plastic perfections of cheerleaders may find it impossible to resist an encouraging cry of “Go team!”
In some ways, Broadway has always been an extreme competitive sport. When young musical-theater talents dreamed of their first Broadway show, however, they probably never envisioned being tossed 20 feet into thin air or balancing on a castmate's raised hand and the sole of a single sneaker.
Welcome to "Bring It On," the genuinely highflying, hyper-gymnastic and surprisingly savvy-sweet cheerleader musical based loosely on the teen movies that began in 2000.
This is a harmless entertainment, at least for the audience, cheerfully put together by such offbeat Tony winners as writer Jeff Whitty ("Avenue Q") composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda ("In the Heights") and composer Tom Kitt ("Next to Normal"). But for all the positive messages and appealing contributions from these new-generation pedigrees, the hero of the show must surely be director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler ("In the Heights"), who turned theater-trained singers and dancers into confident acrobats and real-life competitive cheerleaders into believable characters.
These characters, of course, follow the usual high-school outlines -- the well-meaning ingénue (Taylor Louderman), the privileged mean girls (Kate Rockwell, Elle McLemore), the overweight girl with untapped value (Ryann Redmond) and the multicultural toughies (led by the formidable Adrienne Warren) from the school with the metal detectors.
We've been following these youngsters from "Grease" through "Legally Blonde" to "Glee." This one even has a sardonic tranny (Gregory Haney) by way, maybe, of "Priscilla."
But the cliches come with twists, thanks to the cleverness of the hip creative team. And the twists tumble in on piles of human pyramids.
Louderman shows real range as Campbell, the golden captain of the pep team whose dreams of a national championship are suddenly derailed by school redistricting. Dropped into a complicated world of hip-hop crews, not single-minded squads with pompons, she learns life lessons while changing lives around her.
The songs tend to be basic-pop wailers with healthy comic swatches of Miranda-style rap. The red/blue, pink/aqua sets by David Korins wisely keep things simple, flashing plot on four hanging screens. The rest of the hanging -- not to mention the girl-tossing and the other gut-in-our-throat leaping -- is left to this likable and astonishingly fearless young cast.
There's good reason to approach Bring It On: The Musical (*** out of four) with skepticism. Broadway has offered more than its share of self-consciously cheeky adaptations of fondly and not-so-fondly remembered movies in recent years.
But the humor in this show, based loosely on the 2000 film about competitive high school cheerleading, is more engaging and less condescending than you might expect. Watching the musical, which opened Wednesday at the St. James Theatre, you get the distinct sense that the creators aren't looking down their noses at this little world they've tapped into.
In contrast, librettist Jeff Whitty, a Tony Award winner for Avenue Q, and his equally accomplished collaborators cared enough to craft an original story with new characters, rather than simply rehash the film while making snarky jokes at its expense.
That's not to say Whitty and company have overlooked the satirical possibilities in a plot focused on contemporary teenagers in general and cheerleaders in particular. The newly crafted heroine, Campbell, though played with a nice balance of sweetness and spine by Taylor Louderman, is pretty much a stock ingénue, belting out forgettable, pop-flavored songs by Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green.
The supporting players get to shine brightest in this game. Among them are Kate Rockwell, hilarious as Campbell's dizzy, narcissistic frenemy on the Truman High cheerleading squad, and Elle McLemore, who is similarly spot-on as the mousy but secretly ambitious sophomore whom Campbell mentors before being abruptly transferred to the more rough-and-tumble Jackson High.
It's when Campbell arrives at Jackson that she and Bring It On find their groove. In lieu of a squad, Jackson has a "crew," led by the feisty Danielle (the vibrant, if mannered, Adrienne Warren) and including a sassy cross-dresser who calls himself La Cienega (the marvelous Gregory Haney).
A few misunderstandings follow, nourished by a culture clash that can seem hokey at points. But Whitty's wry, good-natured dialogue makes the clichés go down easily, as do the dynamic production numbers, several featuring the kind of endearing hip-hop rhyming that Miranda used in In the Heights.
And for those who measure a Broadway show's worth by its flash quotient, Bring It On also makes good on its premise's promise of spectacle. Director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, abetted by "cheer consultant" Jessica Colombo, has provided exuberantly acrobatic routines, from spry young women tossed in the air like beach balls to muscular men doing multiple aerial somersaults.
At a recent preview, such feats set off the predictable bursts of applause for the company, which includes veteran cheerleaders as well as dancer/singers.
The final standing ovation, though, seemed earned through spirit as much as technique. In cheerleading, as in all feel-good entertainment, enthusiasm counts for a lot.
Neither roses nor brickbats are likely to be thrown at "Bring It On," the new musical at the St. James, but you'll see plenty of cheerleaders tossed up high. With a story drawn not from the 2000 film starring Kirsten Dunst, but rather from one of its four direct-to-video sequels, the tuner remains airborne often enough to overcome several obstacles along the way, starting with overly familiar plotting and characters. Strong performances from a personable cast, athletically impressive staging and an engaging score combine to make "Bring It On" a pert and refreshing summer surprise.
The story tells of squeaky-white cheerleader Campbell (Taylor Louderman) taking over as captain of the championship squad at Truman High, only to find herself inexplicably redistricted to underachieving, ghettoish Jackson High. She determines to form her ragtag and disinterested new classmates into a squad that will defeat her fair-weather Truman friends at the national cheerleading competition -- all of this accompanied by enough jokes to float a kids' sitcom, in a book penned by "Avenue Q" scribe Jeff Whitty.
The show displays a low pulse through much of the first act, despite several acrobatic displays of cheerleading flips and twirls. Once the heroine switches schools, though, the pace quickens, as does audience interest. Things finally spring to life after 45 minutes or so, with a hip-hop number ("Friday Night Jackson") featuring the heroine in a cheesy-but-funny Leprechaun suit. From then on, entertainment value stays high.
Fresh-faced Louderman makes an impressive Broadway debut as the spunky Campbell, sharing top billing with four other first-timers, who all earn their spurs. Adrienne Warren takes singing honors as the leader of the Jackson girls; Jason Gotay makes a likable, non-aggressive hero; and Elle McLemore, as an Eve Harrington type named Eva, almost steals the show when she turns comically vicious in the second act. Providing ballast for all the smiling faces and toned bodies is Ryann Redmond as Bridget, an overweight Truman outcast who manages to turn the tables at Jackson and even gets a guy.
The score comes from the intriguing combo of composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda ("In the Heights"), composer Tom Kitt ("Next to Normal") and lyricist Amanda Green ("High Fidelity"). The early songs are perfunctory, but the tunes improve with the leprechaun number. In the second act, the songs -- which include a good trio led by Redmond, "It Ain't No Thing"; a lovely, guitar-heavy duet for romantic leads Louderman and Gotay, "Enjoy the Trip"; and a comedy turn for villainess McLemore, "Killer Instinct" -- become more germane to the plot.
Fans of the composers will identify much, though not all, of their individual work; a breakdown of the songs shows seven three-way collaborations, four solely by Miranda, and eight, including the three cited above, by Kitt/Green. Miranda and Kitt are justly celebrated, but the lesser-known Green deserves further exposure, catching the ear, for instance, with lyrics pairing Genghis Kahn with Bristol Palin.
Director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler ("In the Heights") keeps things energetic and lively while maneuvering the high-flying cast safely around the intrusive videoscreens that, in this touring show, are forced to serve as scenery. The cheerleading leaps and pyramids are impressive, yes, but there are too many too soon; they begin to look too easy. The stunts in the final number from the Jackson Squad are notably different than the rest, and thus more effective.
"Bring It On" -- which preemed at Atlanta's Alliance in January 2011 and regrouped in November in Los Angeles at the start of a 13-city jaunt -- is on Broadway for a 12-week stint. With tourists, kids out of school, and five tuners soon to close, these spunky cheerleaders might find cheerful news at the St. James.