Bring It On: The Musical brings together the seemingly disparate worlds of theater and cheerleading at the Alliance Theater in Midtown. The show is a traditional musical with plenty of singing, acting and dancing, as well as high-flying cheerleading and stunting. While the show does not break any new ground with its traditional Broadway-style music, the dancing and cheerleading acrobatics excite audiences more than any song. Even through some of the rapping is very awkward, and there is a boring story, the enthusiasm and energy of the show are infectious.
While the movie Bring It On does lend itself well to dancing, no song seemed as natural. Most of the songs throughout the show feel forced and generally slow down what little narrative momentum the musical attains. The music is disappointing and forgettable. While it was executed well, this aural aspect is anemic and uninspired. This is a shame because as a musical; the music should be a driving force behind the success of the show. Wicked would not be the same without “Defying Gravity.” Hairspray has “Don’t Stop the Beat” and don’t forget Grease’s ‘You’re the One That I Want.” People think about shows and go to them often times only because of the music. Bring It On, unfortunately, has no clear memorable hook or tune.
The dramatic spectrum covered by Bring It On is narrow at best. However, the performers struggle to keep the audience’s belief suspended. The composition of those on stage is primarily dancers and cheerleaders, followed by singers and finally actors. It requires a willing ignorance to enjoy the show. Even though the script does not permit any actor’s performance to garner an acting award, the few emotional scenes are plodded through wearing leaden shoes with steps reverberating of melodrama. The sole exception to this is the sassy drag queen who is always good for a laugh and a heartfelt monologue. There is no subtlety, but this is not overly distracting because the story is subservient to the physical stunts anyway.
The performers were obviously skilled cheerleaders and dancers before preproduction began. The stunts are awesome and inspiring. These dancers bust out double-take, awe-inspiring moves. Since the show takes place in a high school, the dancing is surprisingly era-appropriate; it is not high school dance as a forty-something imagines it, but actually youthful choreography. The fresh dancing, awe-inspiring acrobatics and peppy cheerleading make the choreography and movement the reason to see Bring It On.
While the tonal music is underwhelming, to say the least, the urban energy of the dancing is unfortunately steered towards the music too. These dancers lay down five verses too many. While the rappers vary by skill, the writing is reminiscent of a low-budget after school special. When dancers deliver this subpar material, the result is a cringe-inducing aversion of the eyes. It is the most awkward rapping this side of the suburbs, but also the most enthusiastic. The performers seem to relish this new outlet of expression because while the performance of the rap is deft, enthusiasm for doing it anyway almost makes up for it, though not quite.
The story will seem slightly familiar to fans of the original movie, but the stage version takes a different, simpler direction. While the movie has plot twists involving a cheerleading squad and its all-holy routine, this stage show revolves around a white girl in a mostly-black school trying to exact revenge on her newly captained nemesis. The stories are different, but the stage show has echoes and reminders of the original. They push audiences to be themselves and follow their dreams, push through adversity, work hard, etc. The morals are heavy-handed and overt. The theater version is more heavily moral than the movie, and without the saving grace of one-liners or sexual candidness, the stage story feels half-baked and PG-rated.
Perhaps the most disappointing omission of the show is the tongue-in-cheek tone of the original film. While the original poked fun at high school relationships, politics and priorities, this new staged version ignores this great source material and instead clumsily crafts an in-name-only association. Where the original has candid sexual exploration and discussion, the stage version has a one-dimensional stereotype. Gone are the one-liners and high school lexicon. Gone are the mannerisms and logic of the original that immersed the audience in its world.
Bring It On: The Musical has an inherent silliness to its concept which does not get translated to the stage. Uninspired music and underwhelming story pull this ship under. Where there could have been a certain endearing cheese from the original source there is instead a post-post-modern seriousness. Superb dancing and stunts keep this vessel from being a total disaster. Where there could have been The Love Boat there is instead an all-too-serious Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Unfortunately the show fails more than it delights, but the delights are intense and numerous, albeit similar.