Think flips, pony-tails and archetypal American High Schools and you have Bring It On: The Musical. Watch the British Theatre Academy’s production and find you desire nothing more.
Primarily a coming-of-age story exploring teenage identity and the daunting realisation that high school will end one day (think HSM and Glee), Bring it On’s enthusiasm creates a wonderfully bright musical landscape – one that is definitely enjoyable to witness. Like any successful musical, the songs are distinctive, the lyrics witty and the choruses stuck-in-your-head catchy. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody) combined have produced a colourful score that captures both the energy of cheerleading, such as in the song “Bring it on”, and the modernity of music today, as in “We Ain’t No Cheerleaders”.
Campbell (Robyn McIntyre) of Truman High School is made to transfer to the rough neighbouring High School, Jackson. As the outside world impinges on her dream of leading Truman to a Nationals victory, the audience is reminded of the self-centred naivety in every teenager – something almost endearing in McIntyre’s portrayal. In two and a half hours, Campbell and her peers embark on a journey of epiphanies via song. This is a musical for this generation, littered with millennial references. But then again, the fear of being average, the pressure to be perfect, body-confidence and managing expectations are insecurities recognisable in every age. The characters are likeable and distinct, if not exaggerated, and the cast sparkles with energy throughout.
This energy is heightened by the theatre itself: an intimate space in which the audience surrounds the stage (or floor), much like the American gyms in high school stories. The result is a personal and dynamic experience shared between the cast and audience. At times the space does feel tight, particularly with the accompaniment of the ensemble; a problem its Broadway predecessor would not have had. However, despite being humble in set, Bring It On: The Musical is bold in performance.
Is it cheesy? Yes. A gritty commentary on life? No. Perhaps an example of how life should be lived, with wit, character and fun? Maybe. Watching theatre we often attempt to uncover underlying depths, to extract the metaphysical, but this musical entertains by itself – by being entertaining. To quote Skylar (Isabella Pappas): “This is life and death; this is cheer camp!” Naïve or not, Bring It On will make you want to tackle the next mountain with fervent enthusiasm and a high kick.
Bring It On: The Musical is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 1 September 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.
Photo: Eliza Wilmot