Theater Review: Bring It On

May 19, 2012

Raleigh News & Observer

“Bring It On: The Musical,” at the Durham Performing Arts Center through Sunday, is a high-energy stage spectacle with good songs and thrilling gymnastic dance numbers. Also: two dozen hard-body young dancers in tight cheerleading uniforms, and it’s always hard to argue with that.

Based on the franchise of popular teen comedy films, “Bring In On” is a featherweight morality tale set in the treacherous world of competitive high school cheerleading squads.

It goes like this: Truman High School cheerleader Campbell, surely the peppiest teenager since Reese Witherspoon went legally blonde, is entering her senior year as captain of the school’s perennial powerhouse cheerleading squad.

But things go sideways when Campbell is suddenly transferred to crosstown rival Jackson High, a poorer, grittier school with a predictably multiethnic student body. Jackson High doesn’t field a cheerleading squad, but it does have a top-flight hip-hop dance crew led by the formidable dancing queen Danielle.

Will Campbell and Danielle overcome their differences through a love of dance? Will a common enemy emerge to unite them? Will the show end in a spectacular dance-off between Truman High and Jackson High? “Bring It On” is a completely successful evening of professional-grade musical theater. Sure, the story is predictable, but the songs are catchy, the lyrics are clever, the dialogue is snappy and the performances are impressive.

The show’s real strength, though, is the incredible dance numbers, which feature intricate, gymnastic choreography. If you’ve ever seen those competitive cheerleading shows while clicking past ESPN2 at midnight, you know what I’m talking about. These kids are crazy.

It’s one thing to see this stuff on TV, quite another to watch the leaps and somersaults and 20-foot-high vaults live and onstage. At Tuesday’s show, the audience was a rolling wave of gasps, involuntary flinches and spontaneous applause during the showcase cheerleading routines.

In the lead role of Campbell, Taylor Louderman brings a critical likeability to the character, while managing the part’s relentless singing and dancing duties. Newcomer Ryann Redmond got the night’s biggest laughs in the comic sidekick/ugly duckling role of Bridget, and the supporting ensemble worked together effortlessly. This is clearly a well-rehearsed touring show.

North Carolina native Ariana DeBose, normally an understudy for the role of Danielle, was bumped up into lead role for her hometown performance, and hit the ball out of the park. With her powerhouse voice, energetic dance moves and ace comic timing, DeBose brought it, all right.

Amidst all the spectacle, “Bring It On” has a message about friendship and acceptance and believing in yourself, and outside of a few mild language issues, is safe for kids. The jokes don’t always work, though. Too many of the scripted bits rely on tired jokes about square white girls, and many of the performers stepped on their own laugh lines by rushing through the dialogue.

The show makes use of an inventive, minimal set design strategy with four video screens, suspended from hydraulic lifts, that rearrange themselves behind the performers. Be sure to stick around after the curtain call, as the monitors show a behind-the-scenes gag reel of rehearsal outtakes.


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