American high schools are so different from those in the UK. This is especially true of the hierarchical elements of student life. In the UK, although we pretend it doesn’t happen, the school hierarchy is often determined by streaming according to perceived intelligence levels. Whereas in the US, it revolves more around money, class, talent, looks, etc. So the jocks are at the top and the nerds at the bottom. However, enough of this theorising, it’s far better to drop into the Southwark Playhouse and get a real taste of American high school life as The British Theatre Academy presents Bring It On, The Musical.
At Truman High School it’s the end of the academic year and Campbell Davis (Robyn McIntyre) is ready to fulfill her destiny and finally be elected Head Cheerleader. Although other members of the squad – such as the amazingly self-centred Skylar (Isabella Pappas) and her sidekick Kylar (Clair Gleave) – may feel they would be better suited to the role, the rest of the team believe in Campbell and she takes her place atop of the school’s social pyramid. Her first job is to appoint new members of the squad, and she, along with Skylar hold tryouts. First up is Bridget (Kristine Kruse), who after years as the school mascot wants to move up the scale and become a full member of the cheerleading squad. Whilst she doesn’t make the team, another girl grabs Campbell’s attention and young sophomore Eva (Sydnie Hocknell) gets invited to join the squad. So, at last, Campbell’s life is perfect. She is Head Cheerleader, has a hot and compliant boyfriend Steven (Samuel Witty) and is looking forward to taking Truman to Nationals. And then, Campbell’s world falls in. She is moved to Jackson High School which – horror of horrors – doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad. Instead, this wrong sides of the track school has a resident dance crew led by Danielle (Chisara Agor), La Cienega (Matthew Brazier) and Nautica (Mary Celeste). Campbell tries to fit into her new high school but is the proverbial fish out of water. Not only that but worrying information has reached her ears about the squad she left behind. With all the confusion and suspicion in the air, will Campbell be able to cope and come through her last year at high school unscathed or will she be changed forever?
Although I hadn’t heard of Bring It On, before heading to the Playhouse, this is a show with a large and well-respected pedigree behind it. With a book by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green, we are talking about a production that is dripping with musical theatre royalty sitting at the creative talent table. And it shows. Whilst the story may be very familiar, there is something really endearing about Bring It On that overcomes the cheesiness of the story and makes for a really enjoyable evening’s entertainment. There were a couple of issues with the story, which gave a very much whitewashed idea of cheerleading life and managed to skate over the fact that the poorer kids at Jackson were mainly BME whilst virtually everyone at Truman were white. This was a shame as without making a massive thing of it, the writer could have done quite a lot to raise awareness of the differences found in the “classless” society of American high schools.
A bit slow in starting, things really hot up when Campbell moves to Jackson and we leave the familiar territory of a standard high school and go somewhere that is more realistic and, has some of the best tunes in the show. Jackson is rough and ready and hip hop mixes with ballads and large ensemble numbers without any shame. There are some really memorable songs out of the fourteen in the show – yes, I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write – such as ‘What I was Born to Do’, ‘It’s All Happening’ and my favourite of the night ‘It Ain’t No Trip’.
This is a young cast and quite a few stood out for me as bright lights in the future of musical theatre. One of my favourites was Kristina Kruse playing the nerdy, non-standard cheerleader appearing Bridget, who had a marvelous voice and an excellent stage presence. Chisara Agor and Robyn McIntyre as Danielle and Campbell are both really great as well, especially in their emotional duet ‘We’re Not Done’ which really raises the roof and possibly brings a tear to some people’s eye. However, in truth, this is an amazing collection of over thirty young people who bring new meaning to the words ‘triple threat’. One final mention on the cast goes to Charlie Fisher who not only acts, sings and dances superbly but also manages to make a silver suit look stylish.
Considering the space available, Director/Choreographer Ewan Jones manages to fit in not only some excellent dancing – in various styles – but also the kind of moves you would expect a cheerleading squad to perform including jump splits, cartwheels, layouts, and pyramids. This is a high energy show that, going by the faces of the case, looks like great fun to be in – or maybe they were practicing their cheerleader smile in the heat. MD Chris Ma and his band tucked away behind Tom Paris’ alternate coloured wall of school lockers, delivered a great sound and helped keep the energy levels high throughout.
To sum up, despite not necessarily being the demographic that Bring It On is aimed at, I did enjoy the show immensely. The story is slightly long and has no mystery to it whatsoever but this British Theatre Academy production was exuberant, full of life and energy, and well worth a visit.
Review by Terry Eastham
Bitingly relevant, sprinkled with sass and inspired by the hit film, Bring It On The Musical takes audiences on a high-flying journey that is filled with the complexities of friendship, jealousy, betrayal and forgiveness.
Uniting some of the freshest and funniest creative minds on Broadway, Bring It On features an original story by Tony Award winner, Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), music and lyrics by Tony Award-winning composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights, Hamilton), music by Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning composer, Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), lyrics by Broadway lyricist, Amanda Green (High Fidelity), and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical.
This youth production is presented by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe)
Director/Choreographer – Ewan Jones
Musical Director – Chris Ma
Designer – Tom Paris
Lighting Designer – Ben Jacobs
Sound Designer – Hannah Reymes-Clemerson
Cast: Lillian Abey, Chisara Agor, Haroun Al Jeddal, Matthew Brazier, Lauryn Bryan, Katie Burrows, Mary Celeste, Morgan Howard Chambers, Eithne Cox, Ashley Daniels, Angeli De La Cruz, Charlie Fisher, Abigail Gilder, Clair Gleave, Ellie Goddard, Sydnie Hocknell, Amy Howell, Clark James, Georgina Jones, Zoe Karl, Kristine Kruse, Millie Longhurst, Robin McIntyre, Mary Moore, Billy Nevers, Isabella Pappas, Nathaniel Purnell, Tamsin Smith, Ailsa Spangler, Madison Sproston, Ben Terry, Grace Venus and Samuel Witty.
British Theatre Academy presents
Bring It On
by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Kitt, Amanda Green & Jeff Whitty
2 AUG – 1 SEP 2018