Theater review: 'Bring It On' flies high with pep squad acrobatics and sassy comedy

Published: Monday, March 3 2014 5:05 p.m. MST

“BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL” national Broadway tour, through March 2, Capitol Theatre, 801-355-2787 or arttix.org

Check your mature self in the theater lobby’s coat-check room and enter your high school auditorium for a rousing team-spirit rally. “Bring It On: The Musical” is in town.

Competitive cheerleading is the topic of this musical invention, which takes its name from Universal Pictures’ 2000 Kirsten Dunst teen comedy. But apparently the storyline more closely resembles the third-installment 2006 direct-to-DVD movie, “Bring It On: All or Nothing,” which featured Hayden Panettiere and Solange Knowles.

Although it did play on Broadway, it was not developed as typical Broadway musicals. The standard route is a regional tryout, followed by a flashy Broadway premiere with an open-ended run that leads to a large national tour. Recognizing the many failures of screen-to-stage musicals, the savvy producers premiered the show in Atlanta, initiated a national tour, then had a 12-week summer limited run on Broadway in 2012. The second national tour began last month in Connecticut.

There’s a young target demographic to “Bring It On,” but with its fiercely funny writing and explosive mix of singing, acting, dancing and cheer, there’s ample pep and sassy comedy to appeal to a wider audience.

The upper-crust Truman High School’s cheerleading captain Campbell (the perky Nadia Vynnytsky) is "redistricted" to the urban Truman High, where she wants to turn the hip-hop dance "crew" into a cheerleading "squad.” But she must first earn the confidence of the saucy Danielle (Zuri Washington, with a strong voice resembling Whitney Houston’s vivid pipes).

There are a few other stock teen-flick cliché characters, but the writers are less interested in these secondary players. In fact, with a wink to the audience, Skylar (Bailey Purvis), the self-obsessed prom queen stereotype, announces near the end of the show, “Everyone’s gone through all this, like, personal growth, but I’m exactly the same person I was a year ago.” Beaming a bright smile, she adds, “Oh, well! I like myself. Always did.”

Most interesting to the avid theatergoer are this musical’s creators. The composers are Tom Kitt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer of “Next to Normal,” and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the lyricist and composer of the Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer finalist “In the Heights.” Miranda and Amanda Green, lyricist of “Hands on Hardbody,” wrote the lyrics. Andy Blankenbuehler, the Tony-winning choreographer of “In the Heights,” is the director-choreographer.

The patchwork score is largely unmemorable, and it seems clear the writers were more focused on their paychecks than advancing their careers. There’s traditional Broadway-pop during Act 1 at Truman High and a mix of R&B and hip-hop at Truman High in Act 2. The only song that might stand out is the first act's “I wish” number, “One Perfect Moment,” nicely sung with steely determination by Vynnytsky.

The true star is Blankenbuehler, who created the inventive choreography and breathtaking acrobatics, with the cheerleaders’ high-flying basket-tosses and zero-G somersaults prompting gasps from the audience. And he has flawlessly directed each cast member, all of who own their characters and make all the predictably sassy one-liners sound fresh and nearly original — while also performing advanced cheerleading stunt work to dazzling extremes. “Bring It On: The Musical” is pure, honest fun.

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