Pioneer Press: ‘Bring It On’ review: Stage version is worth cheering

Ron Hubbard, Pioneer Press 5/15/14

The 2000 film “Bring It On” has become such a cult classic among the cheerleading culture it embraces and spoofs that a fair number of uniform-clad cheerleaders could be found at St. Paul’s Ordway Center on Tuesday night. They were there to catch a stage musical inspired by the movie.

The stage version takes things in a different direction from the original, but it offers deeper rewards. Rather than linger in how alienation and animosity fester in the high school Petri dish, it’s a coming-of-age tale about outgrowing the rigid parameters of conventional expectations. It’s also a fun, fast-paced, fairly tuneful fish-out-of-water story from the creators of “Avenue Q” and “Next to Normal.”

There’s still a lot of bite in the satire, especially when representatives of overused high school stereotypes simplify their motivations. But this version of “Bring It On” has much more to say. For one thing, it taps into the trend that diversity is the new norm, and the idea that star athletes and cheerleaders “rule the school” is an antique destined for the curb.

The key change from the original is that the central character, now named Campbell — after waxing in soaring ballads about the place of cheerleading in her life — is redistricted to an inner-city school that has no squad. While struggling to fit in, she convinces the leader of a hip-hop crew to shape its routines into something that could work in the competitive cheer arena. Meanwhile, Campbell starts to conclude that the seemingly innocent neighbor girl whom she mentored at her old school is really a vicious, diabolical social climber a la “All About Eve.” The scene is set for a showdown.

So much enthusiasm is poured into the performance it’s easy to forgive such shortcomings as the dance moves, flips and flying not being as precise or daring as you’d expect from squads being touted as America’s best. And the second act is a little overloaded with earnest ballads, but at least you can make out the words. Many lyrics are lost in the faster numbers, most of which end with the sound of synthesized explosions.

That said, Nadia Vynnytsky makes Campbell an amiable and enjoyable protagonist, supported well by Maisie Salinger as her nerdish sidekick, Zuri Washington as the hip-hop crew leader and Sharrod Williams as the decidedly un-closeted gay student who breaks the gender barrier on the inner city school’s squad.

David Korins provides a clever design that makes for quick scene changes executed by the cast in brisk fashion, a Jumbotron-esque screen playing a big role in establishing the settings.

This version of “Bring It On” has far broader appeal than the original, for it’s about navigating change in an increasingly diverse world and surviving high school by employing some big picture thinking. It has some wisdom to share, and is a lot of fun, to boot.

See the full Pioneer Press review here.

Bring It On: The Musical is on stage at the Ordway now through Sunday, May 18.

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