SALT LAKE CITY — I was in high school when the hit teen movie Bring It On was released in movie theaters. It was a spunky, fun, and somewhat silly movie all about cheerleaders fighting for the coveted national championship cup. And I loved it. Fast forward a few (ahem) years to University of Utah Theatre Department’s production of Bring It On: The Musical, inspired by the movie and filled with all the same hyper, juvenile humor as the original. Overall, the production is an entertaining night out, particularly for the teenager part of the psyche.
Surprisingly, Bring It On: The Musical is a collaborative work from some of the brightest stars behind Broadway’s recent hits. The libretto and book are by Jeff Whitty (Tony-winning playwright for Avenue Q); the music is by both Tom Kitt (Tony-winning composer of Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (receiver of the Pulitzer-prize, Tony, Grammy, and many other awards for Hamilton, plus his awards for In the Heights); and the lyrics are by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the comparatively less-decorated Amanda Green (lyricist for High Fidelity). With this kind of talent all coming together, typically one of two things happens: either the show is a total, knockout success, or the talents compete and the show falters. I feel this show landed squarely in the success category, with the caveat that the material itself is understandably immature overall and pretty inconsequential. It is a show about high schoolers and cheerleading, after all.
One real challenge in the performing of Bring It On: The Musical is that the show is incredibly dance-heavy and requires acrobatics and tumbling because of the on-stage competitive cheer elements. Under director and choreographer Denny Berry‘s guidance, the U. of U.’s production is packed full of exciting and interesting dance moments. Particular favorites of the night include hip-hop centered “Do Your Own Thing,” which is mesmerizing with the dancers’ sultry and expressive moves. Cheer-centric “Legendary” is my favorite tumbling and cheer dancing of the night, and in it each dancer is in-sync and sharp, definitely fitting with the cheer style.
The lighting design by Cole Adams enhances the dance numbers, with strobe-style spotlights and popping colors adding to the intense energy onstage. The costumes designed by Brenda Van Der Wiel are a highlight as well, especially the everyday street clothes of the “hood” Jackson High students, which are bright, youthful, and a little rough around the edges. The scenic design by Keven Myhre is simple yet effective, as a set of gray lockers on wheels are spun and positioned to create walls, benches, and desks, among other things. Also on stage is a bleacher-style set of stairs that leads to a platform housing the live band, who sound flawless under conductor Alex Marshall‘s direction.
The acting in the production is believable and entertaining, particularly Madi Cooper as cheer-eager, bright-eyed Campbell; Ari Glauser as hilariously self-proclaimed “biotch” Skylar; Arjana Sanfilippo as the adorkable Bridget; Wilson Hicken as vivacious La Cienega; and Samantha Stuck as the many-mooded Eva. Cooper particularly is on-stage for the majority of the time, and her energetic performance keeps the show moving. Stuck’s second act number, “Killer Instinct,” is probably the funniest scene of the night, with Stuck’s passion and intensity making the song hilarious.
Because this show is so dance heavy, at times the singing suffers from either lack of neglect or possible lack of breath. Though Cooper acts beautifully and believably, her singing sometimes falters, particularly on high notes that are a bit under pitch and straining. Group singing numbers (which are usually also dancing numbers) also seem disappointing at times, as if the audience is hearing a group of dancers who are trying to sing, rather than accomplished singers who can also dance.
Despite some pitfalls overall, the production is bolstered by a few noteworthy vocalists. Micki Martinez (as Nautica) has a warm, powerful voice that is a pleasure to listen to, particularly during the emotional “We’re Not Done.” Sky Kawai as Randall is the strongest male vocalist with his soaring in “Enjoy the Trip” as a stand-out moment. Lastly, E. Javier Flores as Twig and Carleton Bluford as Cameron excel at delivering several rap sequences interspersed throughout the show.
Overall, I enjoyed University of Utah’s production of Bring It On: The Musical for the nostalgic look back to the drama that is high school. The dancing, live band, and acting makes this a show worth checking out, though it is considered PG-13 for some crude humor, language, and suggestive content. So if you’re in the mood for some teenage spirit with a touch of cheesiness, you may just want to check out the U’s Bring It On: The Musical.