The TV series Glee recently popularized the musical genre of teenagers engaging in conventionally un-hip competitive performance, complicated by social stratification and acute adolescent drama. But you could say they stole the routine. Long before the stuck-up Cheerios of Glee, there were the stuck up cheerleaders of Bring it On.
In the 2000 teen flick, Kirsten Dunst stars as a head cheerleader who must decide if the championship is worth choreographic plagiarism. The film, like Glee is yummy with high school dishiness, ambition and deceit.
But if we're talking moves and grooves and attitudes, the super clever Bring It On, The Musical has them both beat. In an unprecedented screen-to-stage occurrence, this new Broadway-bound movical has a more complex and more engaging plot than its progenitor.
Photo: Craig Schwartz
Our current appetite for all things retro has made '80s movies ripe for screen-to-stage adaptations. These guilty pleasure flicks are now campy musicals: Xanadu, the Musical, Legally Blonde, the Musical, Urban Cowboy, 9 to 5, Saturday Night Fever and on and on and on. (Ghost, The Musical coming in 2012).
Turns out, Bring it On, The Musical is not simply a gimmick. It's much more than a shortcut to box office success via brand recognition.
True, the talent is recognizable: Bring it On has a book by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q); music by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights), and lyrics by Miranda and High Fidelity's Amanda Green.
Combined, this dream team produced a savvy musical that achieves what Glee only achieved during its first season: a winking way to have its cake and eat it too. That is, this largely tongue-in-cheek show blends sharp satire with sincerity. Bring it On 2011 mocks its genre even while it serves up quality music and movement. There's romance and betrayal and high-flying synchronized cheering. And it wouldn't be a high school musical without underdog versus mean girl catfights.
Taylor Louderman and Adrienne Warren, Photo: Craig Schwartz
In the film, Dunst's cheerleading squad is teeming with popularity, entitlement and blondes. Their formidable competition is a squad from an inner city school (black girls). The bring-it-on standoff between the blondes and the blacks is actually a small part of the movie. The East Compton Clovers are righteous and sassy, but mostly generic underprivileged students.
The stage version puts the minorities at the center of the plot, setting the story in their school and giving these kids actual dimension. With this change of focus, the story is flipped on its ear.
Taylor Louderman plays Campbell, the Kirsten Dunst role. The cheerleading captain at her old school, Campbell is inexplicably transferred to a new school due to abrupt redistricting. Like a fish out of water and down the rabbit hole, she becomes the outsider who is teased and hopelessly mocked.
Ryann Redmond and Nicolas Womack, Photo: Craig Schwartz
Adrienne Warren plays Danielle, the ringleader of the girl gang, a group that embraces outsiders -- including a terrific Gregory Haney as the tranny diva La Cienega. Even the chubby outsider Bridgid, (a wonderfully odd-ball performance by Ryann Redmond) is accepted at her new school. But Danielle's clique have a hip hop crew not a cheerleading squad.
Gregory Haney, Photo: Craig Schwartz
As she adjusts to the new social order, Campbell tries to figure out the mystery of the fishy redistricting, and strives to convince the crew to form a competitive cheerleading squad. Warren and Louderman are both dynamic performers; we watch their relationship go from enemies to frenemies to friends.
Elle Mclemore gives a scrumptious performance as the villain-in-sheep's clothes, Eva. She transforms from an innocent brunette to a blonde be-atch in her evil plan to conquer the world of competitive cheerleading.
With sly spoofery, the musical pays homage to classics like Grease,All About Eve, Hitchcock and Single White Female. 2011's Bring It Onupdates the film's decade-old (ancient!) teen culture with hip-hop and Facebook. While the dance sequences/cheerleading routines are full of action and energy and altitude, they tend to involve more synchronized body tossing than dance chops. And while hip hop may be all that, as far as musical theater goes, it's nothing to sing all the way home about.
Even so, Bring It On 2011 is the Bring it On that Bring it On2000 should have been. And like The Producers and Hairspray before it, it probably should be made into the movie of the play of the movie.
Bring It On runs through Jan. 7, 2012 at The Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit shnsf.com or call 888-SHN-1799.