SALT LAKE CITY — What happens when High School Musical meets In the Heights? The answer is Bring It On: The Musical. Conniving cheerleaders, dumb jocks, the fat best friend, the underprivileged minority, the school nerd, the class clown and all the other great high school stereotypes come together to bring this cliché story with a message that winning isn’t everything and there really is more important things in life than cheerleading. My cynical tone actually isn’t that I disliked the show. I was entertained, but I kept wondering what inspired the award winning team Jeff Whitty (librettist and Tony Award winner for Best Book of a Musical for Avenue Q), Tom Kitt (co-composer and Tony Award and Pulitizer Prize for Drama winner for Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (co-composer/co-lyricist and 2008 Tony Award Winner for In the Heights) to come together and create this musical adaptation of the cheesy and substance-less feature film of the same name.
The plot follows Campbell (Nadia Vynnytsky), captain of the national award winning cheerleading squad of Truman High School. Campbell seemed to have it all: great looks, the perfect boyfriend, and—of course—her “besties” on the squad. Campbell’s her world comes crashing down when she gets a letter two weeks before the end of summer with terrible news: she’s been “redistricted” to inner-city Jackson High School, which doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad! Ahhhh! Campbell arrives at Jackson High and discovers her friend Bridget (aka: her fat BFF) has also been redistricted as well. However, Bridget (Maisie Salinger) suddenly becomes a hit for her bizarre fashion and “junk in the trunk,” making Campbell think she just entered the twilight zone. During her time at Jackson, Campbell learns to appreciate her inner city classmates and even forms a cheerleading squad. Through hard work and team unity, the Jackson High Cheerleading Squad makes it to nationals. But now they must compete against the reigning champs from Truman High. Campbell also learns that a sophomore member of her former squad at Truman named Eva (Emily Mitchell), schemed the whole plot to get Campbell transferred (thanks to Eva’s school board member mother), steal Campbell’s boyfriend Steven (Andy White), and become captain of the squad as a sophomore. OMG!!!
Director/Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler did a fantastic job of embracing the cheesy plot and heightening the comedy of these stereotypical characters, and his virtuoso choreography is what made the show so enjoyable. The gymnastics and acrobats in the cheer competitions brought spectacle and pizzazz and were executed by the talented cast with impressive precision. Blankenbuehler’s hip hop choreography in many of the group numbers such as “Friday Night Jackson” and “Its all Happening” accentuated the contemporary setting and was creative and entertaining. The non-Equity cast was talented, but over-all not as impressive or cohesive as Equity Broadway touring casts. Acting standouts included Twig (Erin L. Fleming), the class clown and big man on campus who has a thing for Bridgett. His excellent comedic timing and impressive dance moves brought a lot of humor to his scenes. Zuri Washington as Danielle, the dance team captain at Jackson High, brought a level of sincerity to her role that brought heart to the production. And the Truman High cheerleaders—Skylar (Bailey Purvis), Kylar (Mia Weinberger) and Eva (Emily Mitchell)—provided comic relief with their ditzy conversations, texting, video chats, twitter tweets, Facebook updates, and more…LOL!
The set was simple—really somewhat underwhelming—with little more than a screen, which provided projections and videos (under the design of Jeff Sugg) to establish locations and create the modern digital era feel to the production. This generally worked, but often the stage felt barren and lacked dimension or levels to many scenes that stayed on the same plain for the entire show, offering little variety.
The music and score were largely unmemorable. No standout ballads or stand alone numbers jumped out for the entirety of the production, with the exception of perhaps “Enjoy the Trip,” where Campbell and Randall (Tyler Bertolone) share a date overlooking the city and Randall helps Campbell to realize there is life after high school and individual growth is more important than being popular or winning. Throughout the score, I couldn’t help but hear many familiar melodies reminiscent of Miranda’s In the Heights, such as “Fireworks” and “96,000”.
Though I was not stirred or moved by the show, I was entertained. The creative choreography, impressive cheerleading combinations, well-executed gymnastics, and the talented and energetic performers made for an enjoyable evening.