Teenage Girl Flick Makes For Entertaining Musical
By Isa Goldberg / Chief Theater Critic
At the top of my list of summer pop sensations is “Bring It On,” the new Broadway musical which treats a trite teenage morality story with aplomb and pizzazz! With book by Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”), music by Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In The Heights”) who co-wrote the lyrics with Amanda Green (“High Fidelity”), this teenage girl screen-to-stage adaptation soars with adrenalin. Cast almost entirely with Broadway newbies who really know how to put on a show, this production is dazzling.
Gymnastics and acrobatics are the centerpiece here. “In the Heights” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler uses professional cheerleaders along with Broadway actors to create a kinetic stage story that moves with panache. Rounds of flips and aerial tosses from human pyramids blend into hip hop moves and street dancing. Far more than the book or the lyrics, the actors’ body language, targeting racial identities and cultural stereotypes, carries the narrative.
As cheerleading captain, Louderman rises to popularity, only to get shot down quickly. The actor demonstrates incredible stamina and strength in building the role of a teen idol whose mantra evokes the Miley Cirus’ lyric “nobody’s perfect, you gotta work it.” In a showdown with her BF, the girl next door, the emotional tensions that emerge from Campbell’s psyche are played out with such exaggeration that we come to recognize the “killer instinct” among cheerleading rivals. Indeed, this is teenage revenge drama, broadly portrayed with physical writhing and comic twists.
By far the most nuanced singer in this production is Adrienne Warren. As the leader of the black girl group, she plays a genuine and sympathetic character. Her sidekicks, a cross-dressing Gregory Haney (La Cienaga) and Ariana DeBose (Nautica), camp it up with familiar gags. And Ryann Redmond’s Bridget, the fat girl who bemoans, “I wasn’t born the way other people are. You don’t know what it’s like not to fit in…” makes a major transformation with her first French kiss.
All fluff, and with an edge of satire, the show is nonetheless lots of fun. In spite of a first act which drags with overwritten and obvious plot turns, the story manages to work its way to an uplifting and amusing outcome. While most of the lyrics will quickly be forgotten, the Jackson High School theme song, (that’s the black kids’ school where Campbell gets transferred early in Act I) sums it all up sweetly, “How do we know who we are unless we cross the line?”
Along with the music, which moves from bubble gum to Euro trash all in the service of the fast moving gymnastics, Jason Lyons’ bright lighting floods the stage with cheer. Oddly, David Korins’ set brings back the metallic grids from last season’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which look lackluster and impersonal here.
While these hard working kids make even a graying audience feel refreshed, “Bring It On” is destined, hopefully, to attract a much-needed younger crowd to Broadway.
“Bring It On” is at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street. For tickets go to Telecharge.com, call 212-239-6200, or go to the box office.