'Bring It On: The Musical' tumbles onto Broadway

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It's reassuring to know that cheerleaders can find work that puts those flips to use, long after the teams have walked off the field.

"Bring It On: The Musical," a Broadway show loosely based on the 2000 movie, has an excellent pedigree, though that isn't always evident on stage. The show's flashier numbers all involve the athletic precision required of cheerleaders as they tumble, toss and lift themselves onto pyramids, from which they hurl themselves.

The audience at the St. James Theatre Tuesday night (Aug. 7) loved cheerleading and appreciated the efforts, which are impressive. The show itself, however, is less so, despite a book by Jeff Whitty (Tony Award winner for "Avenue Q") and music by Tom Kitt (Pulitzer Prize and two Tonys for "Next to Normal") and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tony for best score for "In the Heights").

It's clear that some members of the chorus spent time cheering on classmates, which is fitting since the play revolves around cheerleaders. At its heart, it is a story about friendship, courage and competition, wrapped in sassy skirts, pom-poms, bows and perkiness.

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There are some good lines, delivered well. Standout Ryann Redmond, who plays the chubby girl relegated to mascot, begs to get on the squad. If she doesn't her mother predicted it would be "the first in a cascading series of disappointments that will end with me a chain-smoking divorcee in an unfurnished condo in Fresno."

The action picks up in the second act, which means that the first act is pretty flat, with choreography not removed enough from cheerleading routines. It's a young cast, with most making their Broadway debut, and doing that well.

Campbell ( Taylor Louderman) opens the musical praying to God to make her captain of the squad. She has spent her life preparing for this moment and as a senior, her goal is to lead Truman High School's squad to the nationals. The other cheerleaders -- including Skylar and Kylar ( Kate Rockwell, Janet Krupin), a queen bee dimwit and her devoted bee -- elect Campbell.

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Life is perfect, as far as Campbell is concerned, until it is not. Eva ( Elle McLemore, "The Middle"), a neighborhood kid and a freshman who isn't ready for the team, wheedles her way on through flattery. She copies everything Campbell does -- think "All About Eve" -- and pretends to be so enthusiastic and willing to learn. Also think Kristen Chenoweth as a tiny blonde who twinkles at the audience and belts. 

Immediately before school is about to start, Campbell finds herself transferred from Truman High, where she was going to rule, to Jackson, a more urban environment where she has no friends and there is no squad. Campbell finds herself having to grovel a bit to be accepted.

Danielle ( Adrienne Warren) runs the hip-hop dance crew. Her devoted friends are Nautica ( Ariana DeBose) and La Cienega ( Gregory Haney), a drag queen.
 
Eva, the pretty little white girl, has the role to steal the show. But no, girlfriend, it is Haney's prettier black drag queen who sashays away with this show in a limited run through Oct. 7.

The set, costumes and choreography are nothing special. Dancing as the Jackson leprechaun mascot, the show's most interesting number, Campbell proves herself but then goes on to commit calculated acts of selfishness that include duping her new friends. She does this because Eva has done some nasty business against her, but that still doesn't make it right.

"Bring it On: The Musical" is definitely a show parents can bring their children to, with the most excitement coming from chorines getting tossed high. Still if that is all people want to see, they can go to a local high-school football game for free.
Photo/Video credit: Joan Marcus