Tag Archives: Tom Kitt

“Bring It On” at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

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

www.bringitonmusicaluk.com

“Bring It On” at the Southwark Playhouse

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

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Eliza Wilmot