By Carly Fisher
Since December of 2000 when the would-be hit and almost cult-classic film, Bring It On was released, we have been seemingly obsessed with the cheerleading teenagers of the 5 films and countless spin offs, and their intense rivalries and spirit stick competitions. So it was really only a matter of time before the high flying tricks of competitive cheer made their way to the Great White Way for Bring It On: The Musical’s 2011 Broadway debut and now, finally to Melbourne’s Athenaeum theatre as the show prepares for its Australian 2019 tour.
Unquestionably, the show has a particular audience and though many of us grew up with Bring It On, the success of the storyline has been engrained in its ability to pass on through the generations. As such, the crowd was filled with both lady’s nights who loved the movies in their youth, and young girls with their Jojo Bow’s adorned to the top of their heads, all cheering on their favourite cheerleaders. This was certainly an excited crowd.
Whether or not the show lived up to the excitement would completely lie in the hands of the audience member - the show was a lot of fun and the whole cast must be truely commended on their soaring energy and, considering it has been recorded that many leads that night were battling through illnesses, I am so impressed with what they brought to the stage and the quality night that they delivered for everyone in the audience.
As a whole, the stakes of the show just don't stack up if you’re looking for an intense story - however, if you’re looking for some deep emotional journey packed with a punch, a cheerleading musical is unlikely to be the best place to search. The show is, necessarily, light and fluffy. The moments of the show that sit in an odd place for me are when the show takes itself just too seriously. None of this is to discredit the emotional journey of the characters and the conviction with which the actors deliver it with but to instead note that the construction of the musical itself, like many musicals of a similar nature, does have some flaws.
What this musical does deliver in spades is energy and the choreography by Michael Ralph is an unquestionable highlight of the production with a smooth and creative fusion of contemporary, hip hop, cheer and jazz dance creating an all round popping and engaging production of colour and movement. Ralph’s achievements on Bring It On’s Australian premiere were rewarded with a Green Room Award win and it was great to see his choreography take flight (literally).
Kirby Burgess as Campbell is the unmatched star of the show. The stage is hers from beginning to end and her experience through other career highlights thus far (including Barnum and Dirty Dancing) have left her perfectly positioned to, like her character, carry the weight and lead her team.
As an ensemble, the males excelled and delivered the required strength to dominate not only complex flight stunts but also smooth and skilled hip hop routines. The female ensemblists too were very strong, so strong in fact that they outshone a number of the women in the leads and minor lead roles.
Not to be outshone though was Baylie Carson who has been seen on independent theatre stages across Sydney and Melbourne and who is one to watch in this industry. I look forward to seeing where she goes next.
The music in Bring It On often is rhythmically exciting and, in true Lin Manuel Miranda fashion, is fused with hip hop, pop and latin influences that give much of the music in this show a similar back bone to that of his mega-hit In The Heights. The sound mixing in the performance that I attended was clearly off with the instruments heavily dominating over the vocals at times and leaving performers without an opportunity to turn back to find the note. I found the mixing to be a major flaw of the production as it clearly distracted the cast and bothered the audience.
The lighting, however, was slick! The stage at the Athenaeum is clearly very deep but not all that wide and the lighting did wonders to increase the space and to provide clarity, alongside the clever set pieces, as to the location of each scene as we changed and followed the story.
All in all, this production has a huge amount of potential and as the performers continue to get more and more comfortable in both their roles and the swing of the show, the show will no doubt continue to only improve and improve. As I saw it, it was a show that clearly appealed to its audience but didn't yet have the chops to extend beyond that initial demographic.
What you see is what you get with the storyline of Bring It On: The Musical but that should only encourage you to go and support this show that celebrates friendship above all and that reminds us all that loyalty counts more than any win. Especially for the young girls that the show should speak volumes to, I’m not sure a more important lesson could currently be told.
Photo Credit: Nico Keenan
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.