By Hamish Stening
S-P-I-R-T! What does that spell?
“Spirt.” It spells “spirt.’”
So rarely does a line from a show so perfectly sum up a production. Bring it On The Musical is a show that goes for pep and fun but at times misses the mark. It’s a fun show no doubt, but don’t expect too much more (mind you if you were expecting more from a musical based on an early-2000s teen movie about cheerleading you probably deserve to be disappointed). If you don’t mind being shouted at for two hours, love cheerleading, or love the movies on which the musical is based on, you’ll have a great time. If not, well the lighting design is really good…
The musical draws from all of the different Bring it On movies but takes most inspiration from the plot of the third movie. Recently elected squad captain Campbell gets reassigned to the “scary as S-H on the I-T” Jackson school. Suddenly, the very sheltered, very white Campbell is in a foreign world of racial and ethnic minorities, disadvantage, and hip-hop.
The show therefore tackles the themes of school dynamics and race relations. Does it tackle them well? Not really, but more disappointing is the writing of the characters. They are just so unlikeable. They are one-dimensional, unnatural, and jarringly unsubtle, and it also doesn’t help that there are no stakes in the show at all until the second act. All of the characters’ problems resolve so quickly and so unrealistically that one can only assume that they weren’t really problems at all. Brutally honestly, it’s hard not to hate a boring and generic group of teenagers when they are whining about absolutely nothing.
Music is provided by Next to Normal’s Tom Kitt and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, but neither hit the standard of their other works. There are some bops for sure, but often the lyrics are distracting. Due to some unfortunate sound design, the distinct sound and charm that Miranda and Kitt brought to Bring it On – a strange mash-up of Carrie The Musical, Heathers The Musical, and Hamilton – is lost in this production. As a result, the music in this production generally sounds generic and bland. That doesn’t ruin the show however, especially in numbers when there is a focus on dancing. The hip-hop songs in particular feature electric and seriously entertaining dancing and choreography.
It is a shame that the cheerleading numbers don’t carry the same punch (with the important exception of the show’s finale which brings some serious wow factor). To be fair though, that is probably more due to the banality of cheerleading in general than the choreographer or dancers.
Kirby Burgess (Campbell) and Jasmine Smith (Danielle) are very talented actors but here they struggle with an awkward book. They also do themselves no favours by shouting all of their songs. Pitch is a common issue. The rest of the cast face similar struggles made worse by poor sound design. Everything is far, far too loud, and some strange equalisation (balancing of sound frequencies) makes it very hard to understand what actors are singing. Worse still, it makes everyone sound like they have a blocked nose.
The stand-out in the cast is undoubtedly Baylie Carson (Bridget). Her voice pings beautifully and she brings a real energy to the stage. She is also handicapped by the terrible dialogue but powers through regardless. She is delightful not only when she is the focus of a scene but also when she is not. In the background of scenes and dance numbers she is humorous and engaging without ever being distracting.
Lighting Designer Declan O’Neill also deserves credit. The lighting in this show creates drama (thank goodness something does), sets tone, differentiates settings, and pumps up the audience. It is everything that lighting designers hope to achieve with their designs and is crucial to the enjoyment of this show.
Bring it On is exactly what you might have expected: a lot of fun without much substance. The musical itself is not a classic, but will appeal to fans of the movie and to fans of cheerleading. This is a mature production that has toured around Australia, but it might still need time to find its feet in its new home at the State Theatre. You probably already know if this show is for you just by looking at the title, but if you love the film and want to have a fun night at the theatre, Bring it On!
(I am so sorry for that joke)
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.