For some reason, seeing a cheerleader flung into the air to impossible heights just never gets tired. It happens repeatedly in Bring It On
and the audience gasps in unison every time. But this clever little musical has bigger things on its mind than just death-defying thrills: there is also abundant humour and a cleverly packaged, and therefore painless, political message.
The film Bring It On
dates back to 2000, so the creators of the musical have wisely jettisoned the cinematic plot and started from scratch. Jeff Whitty, of Avenue Q
fame – http://archive.fabmagazine.com/features/351/Jeff-Whitty.html
– wrote the libretto, ensuring that the one-liners are fast and furious yet have heart and develop character. And what characters: high school clichés are deftly sketched, lampooned and then eviscerated. The testy race-relations backdrop of the film is updated to the point where racial tensions and stereotypes are apparently things of the past. The conflicts between black and white, inner-city and middle class, have been solved – except for differences in musical tastes and dancing styles.
Even the minority groups who are struggling – in this case the overweight and the transgendered – have a suspiciously easy time of it and are lauded in song: “Love who you are and the world will adore you. And the two who don’t, can’t ignore you.” In real life things are not that easy, but it’s hard not to love a musical where a pudgy and a tranny steal the show and receive the largest applause during the curtain call. When the girl with too much “junk in her trunk” (meaning that in the cheerleading world she was condemned to live within a mascot costume where her flaws would be hidden) – played with vulnerable sass by a scene-stealing Ryann Redmond – is lifted into the air and flung, the audience responds with cheers and tears of joy. And the snappy wit of La Cienega – played with casual aplomb and supreme sexiness by Gregory Haney – earns nothing but respect and the eventual acquisition of “the handsomest boy in school,” with the struggle for trans rights apparently solvable by sheer force of will, personality and style. While the politics could be debated and discussed, having such volatile themes offered matter-of-factly in a very mainstream musical is probably a good thing. As a goth character quips – in vintage Whitty style – before ditching the black garb and joining the cheerleading squad, “Happy is the new subversive.”
Bring It On
comes to TO from LA and is being groomed for a launch on Broadway. It’s fun, fast and hilarious, and if it had just a few more memorable songs it would be a surefire hit. The set is simple, but in a well-executed post-Dreamgirls
style manages to evoke all the worlds necessary and even pump up the drama using video screens and a witty sports metaphor. The cast members are game, impossibly cute and perky, and relish the vicious lines put in their mouths. Self-proclaimed Barbie Biatch Skylar – played by a deadpan Kate Rockwell – spouts all the malicious nastiness we’ve come to expect from cheerleaders and paves the way for the worse evil to come. Worse evil? How emotionally invested is an audience expected to be in a cheerleading competition? Far more invested than expected and then thoroughly entertained: especially when cheerleaders are sent rocketing toward the rafters.
Bring It On runs till Sun, June 3 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St. mirvish.com