At the high points of the winsome new musical Bring It On, the chorus line goes vertical. Since the 1980s, cheerleading has been moving from the sidelines of athletics to become a competitive quasi-sport, with an emphasis on elaborate synchronized acrobatics. Bring It On now imports that driven pep to Broadway, and in the tradition of the High School Musical series, the show takes place in a teenage world scrubbed of sex, drugs, naughty language and believable plot points. But if Bring It On doesn’t offer much depth, it does hit impressive heights. (Young audiences, I suspect, will flip for it.)
Inspired by—but not adapted from—the popular 2000 movie, Bring It On centers on a high-school senior, Campbell (Taylor Louderman), who dreams of national championship glory. After a shaky start, the musical gains speed when Campbell transfers to an ethnically diverse new school, and tries to build a new team with the leader of a hip-hop dance crew (the rich-voiced Adrienne Warren). This cultural divide is mirrored in the score, which melds the neotraditional pop-Broadway approach of Tom Kitt and Amanda Green with the witty, more contemporary rhythms and rhymes of In the Heights charmer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Further diversity comes courtesy of Jeff Whitty’s book, which hews to the obligatory central story but often shifts focus to lovable outsiders, including the hefty, overeager Bridget (crowd favorite Ryann Redmond) and a transgender Afrotastic sidekick named La Cienega (Gregory Haney).
For all its laudable messages about individuation, Bring It On has little more heft than a pom-pom, but it doesn’t pretend otherwise; it even includes a song that disavows the importance of its characters’ high-school dramas. And director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler wins the audience over by emphasizing the now and the wow. Building human pyramids takes labor, and when all is sung and done, the athletic young performers stack up well. Give yourself over to the spirit of the show, and you’ll leave the theater with cheer in your heart.—Adam Feldman
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam