“My People” Call It a Squad
It’s the summer before Campbell’s (Taylor Louderman) senior year at Truman High and she’s finally captain of her cheer squad. Cheerleading has been her entire life since she was five years old and now is her chance to take her squad all the way to Nationals. She just needs to find one more cheerleader to complete the squad. The Cheer auditions don’t reveal any new talents, so Campbell settles for Eva (Kate Rockwell), who, though lacking in skill, has the spirit and energy the team needs.
Just before school starts, Campbell receives a letter from the school board informing her of the rezoning of the school districts. Campbell has been transferred from the upscale Truman High to the more urban Jackson High; a school without a cheer squad! No longer part of the popular crowd, Campbell runs afoul of Danielle, the Queen Bee of Jackson. Danielle (Adrienne Warren) is the head of the school’s dance crew, and looks down on cheerleaders, but she’ll let Campbell audition to be the school’s leprechaun mascot. Campbell earns a spot on the dance crew when she gamely dons the mascot outfit and impresses Danielle with her moves.
Things are starting to look up for Campbell. She’s finding her way in a new school and her old cheerleading squad is in good hands with her trusted successors in charge. That is, until she finds out that one has failed Home Economics and the other has gotten sick with mono, leaving newbie Eva as the squad’s new captain. How could this have happened? Why is Eva’s hair and bedroom suddenly exactly like Campbell’s? Why is Campbell’s boyfriend Steven (Jason Gotay) at Eva’s house? Is something nefarious happening or is Campbell just being paranoid? Oh and by the way, Eva’s mother is on the school board. Campbell must decide how far she is willing to go to reclaim her dream of a National championship.
Bring It On: The Musical doesn’t break any new ground story-wise; in fact, the whole rich kid/fish out of water thing has been done to death. The good news is, you’ll be having so much fun with the show, you won’t mind. The high energy cheer numbers had the audience, well, cheering. I expected the dance ensemble to do all the heavy lifting when it came to acrobatics, but the main cast stepped up and did their part as well; impressive stuff for a live show. Funny and sweet, with a lot of attitude, the show never lets itself get too sentimental. On more than one occasion, the piano starts to tinkle as a character begins a woeful song or tell a sad story, only to be reminded that it’s really not about them.
The music and lyrics were co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the Tony® Award winning In the Heights. Two stand-out numbers are the party jam "Friday Night", "Jackson", featuring the funniest leprechaun throw down you will ever see, and the troop rallying "It’s All Happening." I’m looking forward to owning the soundtrack to this one. Set design is pretty basic; sets of lockers provide the background a lot of the time. Remaining sets are created by four moving video screens that make up school hallways, a bedroom, the beach and even a funny video chat scene. There was a nice “closing credits” type montage playing on the monitors at the end of the show with candid video of the cast a crew during the rehearsal process. Costumes are what you would expect in a show about cheerleaders, but I have to give it to them for an on-stage costume change that verges on sleight of hand.
The large cast worked really hard on this production and it shows. Almost every scene required a lot of the cast to sing, dance, fly through the air AND be funny. I enjoyed most of the performances, but I need to single out Ryann Redmond’s portrayal of Bridget. Bridget is the chubby girl who dreams of being a cheerleader, but is stuck as Truman High’s parrot mascot. She keeps a positive attitude despite not fitting in, often quoting the famously quotable Helen Keller. When she is rezoned to Jackson High as well, she finds that it is possible to not be a Barbie, but still be popular and even attractive to the boys. Her new found confidence reveals a voice and moves you wouldn’t not expect from this girl.
Bring It On: The Musical is not a direct adaptation of the 2000 movie by the same name. Think of it as one of the string of like-minded sequels the original movie has spawned over the years. Don’t let this turn you away though; it’s a great way to spend an evening. Aside from a few language issues, most of which young ones probably won’t even pick up on, it’s fairly family friendly. If I had one problem with the shows it would be that they never worked in a reference to “spirit fingers”. The term made famous by the original movie wouldn’t have fit into this story organically, but I was hoping for at least a throw-away line that mocked the concept.
Bring It On: The Musical will be playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through December 10, 2011.
Tickets are available by calling (213) 972-4400 or online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz