Part of an exciting summer season, the British Theatre Academy has chosen this latest musical production wisely. A high-school drama about cheerleading seems just a sensible pick. But add the name of Lin-Manuel Miranda and you should, rightly, attract a wide audience. In fact, there are no slouches behind this show: music and lyrics also come from Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, the book is by Jeff Whitty of Avenue Q fame. Given such a roster, this is a five-star show that demands respect for being firmly aimed at a younger crowd while still appealing to all.
From the Academy’s point of view, Bring It On also serves as a great showcase for the young talent it nurtures. Even the immaturity of some voices is easily excused. Under the vigorous direction and ambitious choreography of Ewan Jones, the energy and professionalism of all is admirable.
Robyn McIntyre plays Campbell, a hugely demanding role that really is the lead as she guides the show from start to finish. Forced to change schools suddenly, Campbell leaves her old friends (strong comedy parts for Isabella Pappas and Clair Gleave) for a poorer neighbourhood. The move is masterminded by her nemesis Eva (think ‘All About’ Eve Harrington) whose great number Sydnie Hocknell makes the most of. Now the former most popular girl in school has only Bridget for company – a role Kristine Kruse makes a delight – but she was just the team mascot… until now. The stage is set for plenty of self-development.
Campbell catastrophises as only a teen can, and a good deal of fun is had over the perceived high stakes of student life. The new school, complete with cleverly handled differences in teen argot, has no cheerleading culture. Turning this around, with the aim of winning a coveted championship, creates new friends including Danielle, played with star style by Chisara Agor. It won’t be a surprise to see many of this cast go on to have successful careers, but I would put money on seeing Agor again soon.
The pop songs here are good enough to be chart toppers and impressive in their variety. The lyrics are bright and frequently bold. The story itself, based on a movie, is predictable but fun. The sentimentality, updated with a discussion about self-esteem, manages to be sincere. There are some important injections of realism, mentions of race and privilege, that add great power. And a lovely twist at the end elevates the show into a real triumph.
Until 1 September 2018
Photos by Eliza Wilmot