Give ‘em an ‘A’ for athleticism in pulsating, but cliche-filled, ‘Bring It On’

SHARE Give ‘em an ‘A’ for athleticism in pulsating, but cliche-filled, ‘Bring It On’
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“Bring it On: The Musical!!” runs through March 25 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

First things first: There is no denying the mind-boggling talent of the young 21-person cast that makes “Bring It On: The Musical,” now in a “pre-Broadway” touring stop at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, something close to an Olympic-qualifying event.

Think of it this way: Once upon a time performers had to sing, dance and act in order to try out for a Broadway musical. Now they also have to be full-fledged athletes – acrobat-gymnasts who can blithely belt out a song while fearlessly and confidently balancing high above the ground, their feet locked in the grip of a partner whose upraised arms bear their full body weight. Seen in retrospect, the dancers auditioning in “A Chorus Line” had a picnic.

But then there is this: Once upon a time musicals were designed for adults. “Bring It On,” loosely based on the 2000 film starring Kirsten Dunst, is a sort of mash-up of “Hairspray,” “Legally Blonde” and “Wicked” and it feels like a show made to attract a similarly vast audience of pre-teen and mid-teen girls (and their moms). It also feels like the next logical stop in a life trajectory that begins with shopping sprees at American Girl Place and then moves on to the realities of cutthroat high school cliquishness. Of course there is the predicatable urban sharpening up by way of the now dated-feeling infusion of hip-hop and playful rap that telegraphs racial differences. The differences naturally end up being smoothed over, with lessons along the way about self-esteem, cross-cultural bonding and the acceptance of “outsiders” (whether minorities, fat girls, drag queens, or dorky boys who become “cute”). Dream baby, dream.

Clearly, I am profoundly ambivalent about this show which comes with a book by Jeff Whitty (of “Avenue Q” fame), music by both Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) and the high-flying Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of the wonderful “In the Heights”), and lyrics by Miranda and Amanda Green. “Bring It On” can’t escape its teen world tone or the pyramid of cliches that are now de riguer for Broadway. Yet thanks to the pulsating direction and spectacular choreographic/athletic energy of Andy Blankenbuehler (who also devised the dancing for “In the Heights”), the whole thing generates an immense, ultimately irresistible physical delight to the point where you might just want to stand and cheer for the sheer daring, skill and aerobic prowess of the performers.

The story (and its crucial plot point of a “stolen routine” needs clarification) homes in on what happens when Campbell (played by lithe, leggy, tireless and altogether sensational Taylor Louderman), the perfect blonde beauty whose life goal was to be cheerleading squad captain at Truman High School, faces a dream disrupted. When her home is suddenly “redistricted” as part of a devious plot to dethrone her, she finds herself in the altogether new role of outsider at Jackson, a predominantly black and Latino high school where she is seen as decidedly uncool.

But Campbell is nothing if not determined, and she eventually turns Jackson’s sexy “dance crew,” and its leader, Danielle (Adrienne Warren, all curves and attitude), into allies ready to take on that “humble” little Truman sophomore vixen, Eva (Elle McLemore, terrific as the mouse that roars), and her teammates.

In an ensemble that can do it all, the standouts include Ryann Redmond (as Bridget, the overweight girl who moves from mascot to hottie); Nicolas Womack (the quirky rapster who is something of a Miranda alter-ego); Jason Gotay (as Campbell’s true love interest); Kate Rockwell, Ariana DeBose and a whole squad of female cheerleaders who fly through the air with the greatest of ease, and are catapulted and caught by their male partners.

Although “Bring It On” tells us there is life after high school, you won’t find that life on Broadway these days. But as the song suggests, you “Might as Well Enjoy the Trip.” The same might be said of this show.

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