Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s high school drama is a good musical…a very good musical. The score is strong, the lyrics (by Miranda and Amanda Green) are smart and the book, by Jeff Whitty, is neat. Cheerleader Campbell’s coming-of-age story is full of wholesome instruction. With knowing nods to make an adult audience smile, the show is worth seeing. Sadly, this production doesn’t do it justice.
Director Guy Unsworth’s touring show is never less than professional. Perhaps that’s the problem? There’s a cold edge to what should be a warm piece. Maybe the venue doesn’t help? The Queen Elizabeth Hall is great for classical concerts, but a musical feels out of place. Yet the whole affair feels stilted, as performers labour through set pieces (including impressive cheerleading) accurately – but with little sense of enjoyment.
The funniest roles, Alicia Belgarde’s Eva and Chloe Pole’s Skylar get laughs (as they should). But characters like Bridget and La Cienega come across as worthy rather than funny. Campbell’s entry to a new school is serious stuff! True, the role of Danielle (who Campbell must win over) has a lot to do – she questions all sorts of privilege. But the hugely impressive Vanessa Fisher, who takes the role, is undoubtedly capable of more nuance than Unsworth demands. Meanwhile, the guys in the show are just for laughs and end up close to tokenistic.
Star attractions fall into the same problem. Amber Davis takes the lead and is competent. But there is an earnestness to the role that is unrelenting. Belting out every note doesn’t help either. Former Olympic gymnast Louis Smith has some crowd-pleasing moments but, his athletic achievements aside, has too little stage presence. Nobody embarrasses themselves. And nobody looks as if they are having much fun either. Bring It On brings little cheer.
Until 22 January 2022