High energy pom pom squads of sass and camp!
Opening last night, Bring It On: The Musical ends its tour from Melbourne and Perth saving the best for last in the two week short run Sydney season at the State Theatre until 8 September.
The Bring It On formula has been replicated with 5 straight to DVD sequels 17 years after the original film starring Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman), Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Gabrielle Union (Bad Boys II). If you're not familiar with the films, the synopsis may at first glance lead you to deduce it as a bawdy show of mindlessness. Far from it, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green are behind the resonant, quick witted, and often hilariously lacerating lyrics of the vicious back-stabbing world of cheerleading politics, angst and mall fashions, where popularity is commandeered and unmercifully enforced.
Its cast led by Kirsty Burgess (Campbell) and Jasmine Smith (Danielle) breathes life to Jeff Whitty’s script through their ability to hide the edge of hostility behind their smiling allure. The characters function mostly on the level of prissy pom pom squad and wrong-side-of-the-tracks inner city crew archetypes. Longtime fans will feel right at home reacquainting themselves with the spirit of the films, with both actress fleshing out the material with home runs in the multi-octile power ballad vocals required to belt out Tom Kitt’s compositions.
From the opening scene, the audience is pulled into a vortex of maximum intensity in a visual spectacular choreographed by Michael Ralph. The dance canvas of the cheerleading backdrop allowed a creative fusing of dance - contemporary, jazz, hip-hop with flickers of ballroom, and then interlaced with the feats of gymnastics and parkour-like showmanship. In terms of story progression, it is a little overdone but the ensemble’s level of energy and precision maintained throughout much of the first act keeps you buying in to it with roars and cheers emanating from the crowd.
Nathan Weyers’ set design of rotating panels, dynamic lighting design by Declan O’Neill of simple transitions in and out of the locker room and school playground seamlessly transports through out the stages leading up to the national competitions. The high proscenium of the State Theatre allows depth to the scene changes using aerial props and LED, and the high stack pyramids in choreography.
The second act is where we really see the meat of Kitt & Miranda’s musical score! Perhaps because at this point we see the merging of Campbell and Danielle’s worlds, the morsels of wit and wordplay and freeform melody etched through classic showtunes into a refreshing sound that sets the tone for the plot’s finale. “Legendary” is where the show goes into full throttle.
Each ensemble cast member gets their moment as dancers play double duty on both competing squads providing the volcanic eruption of acrobatics and syncronised routines oozing off the stage to the cheers and screams of the audience! The sassiness of Marty Alix (La Cieniga) humor of Baylie Carson’s Bridget nicely balanced with tender moments between Randall and Campbell and their blossoming affection in “Enjoy the Trip” and Danielle and Campbell’s friendship overcoming “We’re not Done”. This combination of camp and sap is what has always been at the soul of the Bring it On formula. Karla Tonkich (Eva) becomes the villainess we love to hate in “Killer Instinct” finding a final note to the song that just didn’t exist in the original Broadway recording! The vocal strength of the cast parallels the high level of athleticism without compromise.
For everything that works, the only misfire are pockets of vocal belting moments over the band that are slightly jarring. The State Theatre was originally built as a cinema for film, while modifications have been made to help maximize optimal spectra of noise, reverberation and intelligibility, there are still weak spots in certain parts of the theatre which may be no match for the experience in 500 musicals and 100 sports events Greg Ginger brings to the sound design. Especially with a short run production moving across three venues in a short space of time. He is also notorious for experimenting with new equipment and trial design concepts.
Light hearted, funny and energetic - From On Again, All Or Nothing, In It To Win It, Fight To The Finish and Worldwide Cheersmack - longtime fans will recognise the formula that each movie re-takes with the rival groups of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. A canny crossbreed of High School Musical, Glee and Mean Girls, like the film, Alister Smith’s direction trades in swift one-liners, adolescent humor and slapstick in a gospel of female self actualization!
Photo credit Nico Keenan