Confession time: I was never a big fan of the “Bring It On” film series (I’ve only seen bits and pieces of films on cable) and I certainly wasn’t expecting much from “Bring It On: The Musical”
Gimme an “H”! Gimme an “I”! Gimme a “T”! Yes, the cheerleading-centered musical is indeed a surprise hit.
Much like the film franchise whose sequels merely feature the premise of two rival cheer squads and no recurring characters between them, “Bring It On: The Musical” merely uses the premise of competitive cheerleading to hang its narrative about alienation, friendship and good old-fashion high school backstabbing on.
If 2007’s film “Bring It On: In It to Win It!” was a modern retelling of “West Side Story,” “Bring It On: The Musical” could be said to be a pompom spin on “All About Eve.”
Make that “All About Eva.”
Campbell (the likeable and somewhat understated Taylor Louderman) is the head cheerleader at a whiter-than-white suburban high school and she’s that rare, nice popular girl who is kind to everyone, not just her besties. On the eve of the start of the school year, her home is redistricted as a result of some possible sneaky maneuvering by her sophomore rival Eva (the sweet yet conniving Elle McLemore). Campbell, along with the team’s full-figured, geeky mascot Bridget (the hilarious Ryann Redmond) find themselves attending Jackson, the diverse and rougher inner city school across town.
From there, things are turned upside down. The once popular Campbell is an outcast. The bootylicious Bridget, however, suddenly finds that she is attracting both the attention of the boys and the school’s dance crew, led by Danielle (the terrific Adrienne Warren).
Other standouts in the cast include Gregory Haney as a transgendered cheerleader La Cienega, and Jason Gotay as Campell’s love interest Randall. Gotay’s performance of the ultimate teenage anthem “Might As Well Enjoy the Trip” is positively swoon-worthy.
It’s not only the main characters of the play who find their souls at Jackson. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler manages to find the heart and the soul of the show there, too. The show stops being a cross between “Mean Girls” and “Legally Blonde” to actually delve, albeit briefly, into issues of class, race and even political power.
Producers have wisely assembled a Tony-award winning creative squad here. The book is by Jeff Whitty (Tony winner for “Avenue Q”), the lyrics are by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda (the former is a recipient of the Jonathan Larson Award, the latter the Tony winner for “In the Heights”) and the music is by Miranda and Tom Kitt (Tony and Pulitzer winner for “Next to Normal”).
Kitt brings some truly gorgeous and complex melodies to the table here, much like his work in “Next to Normal.” For his part, Miranda continues to contribute to expanding the vernacular of Broadway music with elements of rap and hip hop starting to feel more and more like they belong on the stage. Highlights include “It’s All Happening” (though this might work better as a first act closer, not a second act opener) and the climatic number “Cross The Line” wherein our protagonists learn that winning isn’t everything and sometimes it’s best to stand out and play by your own rules instead of conforming to societal norms.
And if the music doesn’t blow you away, the choreography and cheerleading stunts will. “Bring It On” will have you cheering in the aisles.
“Bring It On: The Musical” runs through Mar. 25 at the Cadillac Palace, 151 W. Randolph. Tickets, $18-$85. (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com.