By LIZ BYRON If you have ever thought to yourself, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if I could go see a musical about how tough it is to be a high school cheerleader?” you are in luck! Bring It On: The Musical is playing at the Ordway Theatre until May 18, and it is jam-packed with teenage angst, singing and dancing, short skirts, flashing lights, and breathtaking acrobatic sequences. Is this a good thing? Well, it’s certainly entertaining, and sometimes, that’s really all you want. Or need.
The touring musical is based loosely on the teen film of the same name, and they do mean loosely. If you were a fan of the 2000 films tarring Kirsten Dunst, don’t get your hopes up — the story is completely different. Well, as completely different as a story about highly competitive cheerleaders from two different high schools (one well-off and mostly white, one poorer, mostly black) can be. The basics: Campbell (yes, that’s her first name) has it all: captain of her school’s highly successful cheerleading squad, dating the cutest boy in school, adored by all, and of course, thin, blonde, and well-off. Then, she gets transferred to another school – a poorer school which has no cheerleading squad whatsoever, and a culture Campbell struggles to fit into (hint: there aren’t many white kids at this new school). When it turns out that Campbell’s fall from glory may have been the result of an evil scheme, and not random chance, things get heated.
This is definitely not the most compelling plot in the world, and the juxtaposition of tongue-in-cheek lines like, “This is life or death! This is cheer camp!” and the intense dance numbers that show that these cheerleaders mean serious business is a little confusing — are we supposed to take them seriously or not? And I can’t decide if the lyrics are refreshingly contemporary or just clunky, for instance, “She’s driven, she’s got heart, and she’s a hottie to boot”. Furthermore, I don’t consider myself a prude, but I feel a little uneasy with this constant barrage of images of 17-year-olds in barely-there skirts, grinding their hips and flaunting their sexuality. In fact, over intermission I overheard an audience member praising the show because of “all the hot girls”. I know the actors are all adults, but they’re portraying underage girls. Isn’t that a problem?
Other concerns: when, oh when will I see a show – particularly a comedy – that doesn’t make me cringe with its reliance on stereotypes? As I sat in my seat at the Ordway last night, I silently asked the writers questions like: Why must the vapid, dimwitted girls be blonde? Why must the only fat girl be the comic relief (and why is she the only female cheerleader not wearing a short skirt?)? Why must all the people of colour be serious hip-hop dancers? Why must the only visibly transgender character be outrageous in her over-the-top femininity? Why must the out-of-place white girl find the only thin, white guy at her new school to date? Why must the women of colour all be sassy? Surely by 2014 we can recognise humour without these outdated tropes, can’t we?
But really, nobody goes to a show like this to pick at problematic social issues (except me). Maybe they should; maybe that would be a good
way to chip away at these stereotypes. But realistically speaking, the appeal of this show is its flashy, over-the-top style, and its well-choreographed dance numbers, complete with gasp-inducing aerial acrobatics. And on that front, Bring It On more than delivers. It’s full of bright colours and the set is made all the more versatile with a giant TV screen that adds depth to the scenery in a way that is not usually seen on stage. The singing is consistently good and the acting is solid. But of course, what really sucks the audience in are the dance (cheer?) numbers. Fast-paced, tight, and bigger and better with each passing song, the dance numbers leave the audience screaming their approval.
As is often the case, the supporting characters of Bring It On are more entertaining than the lead. While Nadia Vynnytsky does an admirable job of portraying the earnest Campbell, it is the rest of the cast that brings colour to the story. The airheaded, self-absorbed blondes, Skylar and Kylar (Bailey Purvis and Mia Weinberger respectively) are so over-the-top that, by the second act, the audience laughs just at seeing them, while Eva, the diminutive villain, is played delightfully by Emily Mitchell. Maisie Salinger plays the self-depracating Bridget, who is sweet and clownish and has everybody cheering for her after only a couple of lines. But above all, the show gets stolen by the mighty Danielle (Zuri Washington), leader of the dance crew at Campbell’s new school — her, and her two lieutenants, Nautica (an entrancing Jennifer Geller) and La Cienega (Sharrod Williams), who have by far the loudest personalities and the coolest dance moves.
So, if you’re looking for a big, loud, flashy show to entertain you and keep your eyes riveted to the stage, grab your pom-poms and head to the Ordway (watch out for the construction!) to catch Bring It On while it’s in town.
Bring It On: The Musical runs May 13-18, 2014 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St, Saint Paul, MN. Tickets $36-105 at http://www.ordway.org or 651-224-4222.