Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Cheer Desperation

It will probably surprise no one to learn that Bring It On: The Musical, as a piece of theatre inspired by a pre-existing work, is no My Fair Lady. Heck, it doesn't even rank with Legally Blonde: The Musical in terms of quality. The cavalcade of hit movies being adapted for the stage rolls on with this multi-million dollar cheerleader tuner, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through December 10th before embarking on a national tour.

The 2000 movie Bring It On was an unexpectedly well-written sleeper hit about dueling cheer squads from opposite sides of the socio-ethnic tracks. It made a star of Kirsten Dunst and helped launch the careers of actors Gabrielle Union, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford and director Peyton Reed (Down With Love). Amusingly campy, it introduced such terms as "spirit fingers" and "cheer-tatorship" to viewers of the time.

Alas, there are few such references to be found in the generally way-too-serious Bring It On: The Musical. While it features an increasingly-unhinged novice cheerleader (a game Elle McLemore) out to demote squad leader Campbell (Taylor Louderman) in an obvious spin on the cinema classic All About Eve as well as a transgender character (Gregory Haney as the sassy La Cienega), the stage version features little of the knowing wit that made its film source memorable.


Of course, a musical is ultimately made or broken by its songs, and the score is where Bring It On: The Musical falls short most significantly. Tony Award winners Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) composed the serviceable, hip-hop heavy music, but the lyrics by Miranda and Amanda Green (High Fidelity) are more often than not just plain awful. The few good numbers -- opener "What I Was Born to Do," Act 1 closer "Bring It On" and the 11th hour "Cross the Line" -- may be more memorable for their gymnastic staging than their words, but at least they didn't make me cringe as so many other songs did. And as much as the musical's core audience will probably be 15-year old girls, the lyrics and dialogue penned by Avenue Q's Jeff Whitty contain enough mentions of "stiffies" and even cruder terms for female genitalia that parents should beware.

There is a palpable air of desperation around Bring It On: The Musical. It's producers are desperate for a hit, director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (also a veteran of In the Heights) seems desperate to prove he can helm a production and not just stage its musical numbers, and Kitt, Miranda and Whitty may all be anxious to show they are still hip after achieving theatrical respectability. The show needs less desperation and, as any cheerleader will surely agree, more spirit.

Reverend's Rating: C-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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