So color me pleasantly surprised when I went to see Bring It On at the Ahmanson this weekend. Not only was it extremely polished and professional in every way, but it was actually a lot of fun. Out of all of the potential Broadway transfers I have seen in the past year, this is the only one that I truly hope makes it.
The first thing you need to know about Bring It On: The Musical is that it is NOT based on the movie. It is about cheerleading, there are two schools (one being incredibly more diverse than the other) and the team colors are the same as they were in the film. Bu that is where the buck stops. Here's the set up: Campbell is the head cheerleader at Truman High, a school poised to win their first national championship. Being the nice gal that she is, she lets seemingly shy sophomore Eva on the squad and then when it seems as though the kid may quit, she lets her be her sophomore lieutenant, should her two potential backups fail to do her head cheerleader duties in case of an emergency. When Campbell gets redistricted to the funky but cheerleader-less Truman high, she is heart broken. Her attempts to create a squad are halted by Danielle, the queen bee of Jackson and the leader of the dance crew.
Eventually, Campbell learns how to fit in at Jackson, by showing that she is willing to get down and dirty and dance with the rest of them. But when she hears that Eva managed to take over the squad over at Truman, her spidey senses start to tingle. She believes that the sophomore has totally single, white female-d her life, and sets on a path to take it back...starting with getting a squad together at Jackson. Even though it is easier said than done, she manages to trick her fellow students into believing that there would be fame and fortune should they win, and the race is on between the two squads to take nationals.
Bring It On has a lot going for it. You know when you see those cheerleading championships on ESPN and you think "How the hell do they do that"? Well, imagine that, while the athletes sing AT THE SAME TIME. In addition to having crazy choreography, the show has to have an ultra talented cast to pull it off. Obviously they have one of the hardest working ensembles in the biz, although I do fear that an onstage accident is imminent. Watching them pull it off is all kinds of amazing. But they aren't the only ones worth watching. Taylor Lowderman is an adorable lead, bringing her best Elle Woods to the part but still making it her own. She has a lot to do here, and she pulls all of the singing, acting and acrobatics off with ease. Adrienne Warren plays a solid foil turned friend in Danielle, although I do feel like hers is the role that would work best with "a name" in the part. As Danielle's two besties, Ariana DeBose and Gregory Haney bring life to Nautica and La Cienaga- the former having the best voice in the show and the latter great comedic timing. Ryann Redmond, Kate Rockwell and Nicolas Womak all bring the funny as well and it was great to see So You Think You Can Dance alum Neil Haskell making some money off of the "tricks" and charm he was criticized for having on the show. Finally, Elle MeLemore rocked as Eva, a difficult part as we are meant to be uncertain as to the character's true intentions for the first 3/4 of the show and she pulled off all of Eva's transitional moments incredibly well.
One of my favorite things about Bring It On was, as you may have just noticed, that there are a lot of characters in this show. There are two schools filled with people, not all of whom are even on the squad. And yet it is really easy to know who all of them are. They are distinct individuals and each one plays a part in the story. This is one of the most successful aspects of the book. I also appreciated that I wasn't truly able to predict where the story was going, which took me along for the ride. There is a fully fleshed out story here, which a lot of musicals of late have been lacking. A great deal of the characters get their own individual arcs, which is lovely to see as well and makes you feel like you have been on an actual journey.
The other great thing about the show was the music. My two favorite music writers of the theater scene right now are Lin Manuel Miranda, who won a Tony for In The Heights and Tom Kitt who too won a Tony for Next To Normal and wrote the kick ass orchestrations for American Idiot. Bring It On's music is written by both men. There are lots of great production numbers and a few excellent ballads. There were no legit sleeper songs, which I really appreciated. Miranda's trademark rap made its way into the show as well and it surprisingly worked. And the almost Disney-esque hopeful tone to many of the numbers really worked with what the story was about and who the protagonist was. It was a large part of what made it such a fun night at the theater.
All that being said, Bring It On wasn't perfect. The show could afford to be tightened a little bit. For the first twenty minutes, before Campbell gets redistricted, I was certain that there would be no actual conflict and that we would just watch pretty people do pretty things for a few hours. (Which I don't need...that's why I watch the CW) I'm glad that it didn't turn out that way, but it was a looonnngg time to wait for a plot to start. There are also tiny logic problems, like the fact that we never are actually told that Campbell and her boyfriend break up when they both move on to someone else or that Eva is able to surpass Kylar as captain because Kylar was sick...except that she comes back to the squad yet Eva remains in charge. These things don't matter much in the grand scheme of things but they do take away a little from the show. I also didn't love the love storyline between Campbell and the music loving boy at her new school, mostly because he seemed underdeveloped and unrelated to all of the rest of the action. I understand that its a peppy musical and romance seems needed but I wish it was with a more fleshed out and integrated character. In addition, as much as I loved the music, Act 1 was heavy on the big production numbers which made the excess of the smaller numbers in Act 2 feel uneven. They need to spread everything around a little more..create some hills and valleys of musical magic. They have all the parts, they just need to figure out how to put it together.
Despite all of these problems, one thing remains clear...Bring It On is FUN. It may not have a great deal of deeper meaning or be the most perfectly structured thing to hit the stage but it does keep you entertained for a few hours. Are we looking at a Best Musical Tony contender here? Probably not. But if you are in Los Angeles and are looking for something to do, get your butt down to the Ahmanson. Yes, it will be annoying when people think you just saw someone try to be Kirsten Dunst on stage and you will need to explain otherwise, but trust me. It will be worth it.