Friday, May 4, 2012


Special to TorSun
04 MAY 2012
R: 3/5

If you want to know how much theatre has changed over the years, consider this: Back in the days when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland defined the youth of America, it was “My dad has a barn, let’s put on a show.” Today, that line might read more like “My dad has a stadium, let’s put on a show.” Which leads us inevitably to BRING IT ON-THE MUSICAL (inspired by Bring It On, the movie, which was in turn inspired by the world of competitive cheerleading). The possibly Broadway-bound musical opened a limited run Thursday in the Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly the Canon).

First off, for those unfamiliar with such things, it should be noted that cheerleading has changed from the days when squads were comprised of those whose gender or athletic ability precluded making the team — so much so that modern cheerleading often demands a level of athletic prowess exceeding that of the competitors being cheered. And based on Thursday night’s opening, BRING IT ON is a fine showcase for that kind of talent, filled as it is with high-flying acts of derring-do from some of America’s best cheerleaders, who comprise about half the cast. But finally, all those breath-taking gymnastics can’t really mask the shortcomings of a wickedly-derivative book (by Jeff Whitty) or a pleasant, engaging and largely forgettable score (by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the latter of whom collaborated with Amanda Green on lyrics.)

The story, such as it is, is a convoluted affair revolving around the misadventures of the lovely young Campbell (played by Taylor Louderman) who, as reigning queen of the cheerleaders at upscale Truman High, suddenly finds herself shunted aside in her senior year through the machinations of her young protégé (Elle McLemore). Exiled to the down-market Jackson High, Campbell eventually befriends the haughty Danielle (Adrienne Warren), the diva of Jackson’s dance crew, and after a few missteps, the two team up to transform dance crew into cheerleading squad and find themselves competing against Truman at the national cheering championships. Along the way, Ryann Redmond (as the full-figured Bridget) and Gregory Haney (as the funky shemale La Cienega) offer intimations that inner-city campuses might well be in the vanguard of positive social change.

But, ultimately, there’s not a single character here who is deeper than a dime, and while director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler polishes things to a high gloss, all that sparkle simply serves to underline the fact there is no depth to the story. Despite everyone’s best efforts, all the earnest athleticism of the cheerleaders only serves to get in the way of hitting that perfect tongue-in-cheek sweet spot that made Legally Blonde such a romp.

Meanwhile, David Korins' sets are simple and serviceable befitting a production born on the road, relying heavily on video screens and banks of school lockers to set most scenes, while Andrea Lauer’s costumes run the gamut from preppy to funky, with, not surprisingly, a heavy infusion of cheer gear all along the way. But finally, while BRING IT ON-THE MUSICAL pumps us up like cheerleaders should, it lacks an emotional touch-down to win the game — so if your dad has a stadium, the best thing to do is still to put on a game.

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