But then I heard about the creative staff that Bring It On was amassing, and I became increasingly intrigued: Jeff Whitty of Avenue Q on book, Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) on music, and Miranda and Amanda Green on lyrics. Plus, direction and choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, also of In The Heights fame. That's some pretty high-powered creative right there, although as we know there are certainly no guarantees when it comes to musical theater.
Bring It On was initially announced as a touring production, with no specified plans for a Broadway run, but when the St. James Theater became available after the premature (IMHO) demise of Leap of Faith, the producers of Bring It On saw an opportunity and grabbed it. The show was originally scheduled for a three-month run, which has since been extended through the end of the year. The extension was no doubt a product of the enthusiastic audience response to the show, plus slowly building weekly grosses.
And here's the thing: for once, I'm siding with the throng. Bring It On is an infectious joy of a show, well-crafted and ably performed. True, it has nothing on its mind that's any more complex than "Who's going to win the big cheer-leading competition?", but what's wrong with that? Youth-focused shows don't have to be dumb, or poorly crafted. Bring It On doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is, but the stagecraft, lyric writing, character development, and musical composition put the show head and shoulders above such uninspired movie adaptations as Sister Act and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
The show starts a bit slowly, at least in terms of moving the story beyond the central female teen, Campbell, the new captain of the cheer-leading squad at Truman High School. Campbell, played with a winning and winsome charm by newcomer Taylor Louderman, begins the show with what are essentially two "I want" songs ("What I Was Born to Do" and "One Perfect Moment"), both of which get reprises within the first 15 minutes. OK, we get it. The kid wants to lead her squad into becoming the national champions. Do we need to say it four times?
But the show quickly broadens its focus to an appealing array of vivid characters. Bring It On is the show that Lysistrata Jones wished it could be: Lysistrata Jones was clever, Bring It On is smart. Both the story and the people who inhabit Bring It On have a fairly stock feel to them, but the creators have given them both depth and heart. Even the villain in the story (played by the marvelously perky and nuanced Elle McLemore) has a certain comic charm to her, although Whitty very wisely keeps us guessing until the middle of act 2 as to whether she's really plotting against our heroine or whether it's all in Campbell's mind. (Not unlike what Roman Polanski does in "Rosemary's Baby," if I may be so bold as to make such a seemingly bizarre comparison.)
Bring It On also has a rousingly infectious score. From what I can surmise it appears that Kitt and Green have provided the pop songs, while Miranda has supplied songs reflecting his own particular brand of accessible hip-hop. It's a canny choice: the vastly different styles help differentiate the separate student populations therein, and emphasize the culture clash between the competing high schools. Among the most appealing of the songs are "Do Your Own Thing," which introduces the lead character, as well as the audience, to the culture shock that is Campbell's new high school.
And then there's the crowd-pleaser "Ain't No Thing," in which a transgender teen and his/her sassy friend instruct the spunky, hefty girl (the delightfully animated Ryann Redmond) on the joys of accepting who you are. It's really remarkable how off-handedly the show portrays the transgender character, acknowledging the difficulties, and yet allowing him/her to blend comfortably into the fabric of the school. Performer Gregory Haney adds immeasurably to this process by giving the character a fierce individuality that gets the entire audience rooting for this no-nonsense tiger of a teen.
One of the most pleasant surprises of Bring It On is director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. His thrilling work on In the Heights was beginning to look like a one-time thing, after the ignominious misfire that was 9 to 5. Blankenbuehler's ebullient and idiomatic hip-hop style, which was so woefully out of place in 9 to 5, suits Bring It On to a T, and gives the production a joyous sense of effervescence. What's more, Blankenbuehler reveals himself as a sensitive and sharp director, helping the young cast craft indelible characterizations, bringing an exuberant theatricality to the show's presentation, and demonstrating a lively flare for dramatically effective stagecraft. Blankenbuehler may just be one of those choreographers who makes a successful transition to the elite club of theatrical auteurs.
Bring It On will doubtless enter the canon of shows performed regularly at the high school and college level, but you'd be a fool to wait. The Broadway cast and production, plus the fact that the show is still heavily discounting its tickets, make this particular production a must-see. Also, you're unlikely to see a subsequent production with cheering routines that are this athletic and genuinely exciting.