Theatre Review: “Bring it On” @ Orpheum Theatre, SF, 12/14/11

With a combined creative team that brought us some of the best musical theatre in the last decade – Next to Normal, In the Heights,  and Avenue Q – you might think Bring it On would end up being another amazing musical theatre masterpiece, but unfortunately this hot mess is nothing but an uninspired mess. It’s like Glee after the second episode. The story meanders but doesn’t give an real insight into any of the characters (I don’t even remember any of their names), the unmelodic music is a mash-up of In the Heights throwaways and through-composed whiny Next to Normal bits and the choreography looks like In the Heights, and yet tries to be something you would see on “America’s Best Dance Crew” but doesn’t even land close to either.

Nothing works, except for the real cheerleaders that are in the production. They fly to new heights, quite literally and amazingly. And because of this, Bring it On ended with huge cheers from cheerleaders (young and old) in the audience when they leapt to their feet and gave it a standing ovation.

Finally, someone put their life on the stage.

I sat there annoyed and felt cheated that some of my musical theatre idols delivered a sugar-coated passionless production of a movie musical that isn’t really based on the movie (except the subject manner). It is, after-all, only “inspired” by the original movie, written by Jessica Bendinger. Can we say, false advertising?

Maybe my expectations were high, but come on, Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) wrote the music and Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) wrote the book and they have all won Tony Awards for their previous works on Broadway. This should have been the musical theatre “dream team”. Yet, the style was disjunct and the music is split between Miranda’s signature rapping (which didn’t work into this production at all, especially when the white girls are rapping at the beginning of Act 1) and Kitt’s (usually) brilliantly through-composed compositions. I left not being able to remember a single melody. The only few good songs in the show were the ones that were pre-recorded: “Legendary”, “Don’t Drop” and “Cross the Line”. And those are not even close to anything I would listen to on my iPod.

Opening Night at "Bring it On" - photo by SHNSF

Then, there’s the other pre-recorded tracks. To be honest, the whole show was mostly tracked. They left a few songs, mostly in the second act, that aren’t pre-recorded, I guess, to give the musicians in the pit something to do. There’s even pre-recorded singers on these tracks. Are we serious? With a cast of 30, you’d think you wouldn’t need to pre-record singers, but you do when it sounds like there are only 10 people singing on stage during the big group numbers.

The vocal stylizations by Taylor Louderman (Campbell), a character fashioned after Elle Woods but without any of the charisma or charm, was so bright that is was borderline screaming at points. She could obviously belt notes that most girls only dream of, but song after song sung in these high belts were absolutely obnoxious. I don’t fault her because she had nothing to work with. Even her character’s arc was uninteresting. She does her damnest to carry the show, but it’s hard when the material you are given is spiritless.

One of Campbell’s best bits in the show, is when she shows up to the dance crew in her new high school’s mascot: the leprechaun. She dances the hell out of it and gets the girls on the dance crew to be her friend because she dances so well. But the best part is that Louderman isn’t the one wearing the leprechaun costume, it’s another cast member (supposedly unbeknownst to the audience), so she doesn’t even know the dance. Totally unfortunate.

The best part of the show was the “chubby” sidekick, Ryann Redmond (Bridget). She’s the only one that kept landing her lines and bits consistently throughout the night. While, there were a few good oneliners in the show (“I got google. Bitch.” and “No cheerleading squad? What’s the point of school?”), Redmond was the only character that felt fresh and new. The rest of the characters were a colliding mess of Legally Blonde, In the Heights and Next to Normal. (Three really awkward shows to put together.) And, of course, none of it fit.

"Bring it On" cast during opening night bows - photo by SHNSF

The set design (David Korins) and lighting design (Jason Lyons) were pretty spectacular. The set used four different LCD screens that moved around the stage extremely well and created some very cool stage pictures. It was unlike anything I have seen. And the lighting was perfectly amped up for all of the big production numbers. Overall, both elements were extremely impressive.

The producers were right not to transfer this to Broadway. Besides, the huge overhead that it would cost to run nightly on Broadway and the fact that the musician’s union would probably boycott the show since everything is pre-recorded, the critics would rip it to shreds in New York City. Instead, Bring it On will bring cheer and happiness to cheerleaders all around the country. People will go, enjoy themselves, laugh at the silly jokes, and walk away entertained. But, Bring it On will never land in the same category as Wicked which is the very demographic they are trying to sell this show to.

And the show will not even be readily produced on the regional/community/high school musical theatre circuit because of the cast demands, technical difficulty and pre-recorded tracks. There’s not even life after this national tour for this show.

The creative team had the opportunity to mold pop music, cheerleading and musical theatre together all into one amazing package, but instead it was just a big tug-of-war and no one won. Instead, it just ended up being a unenthusiastic mess that the creator’s worked on to pass the time, waiting until their next stroke of genius will come. And God, I hope it’s soon, for everyone’s sake.

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8 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Bring it On” @ Orpheum Theatre, SF, 12/14/11

  1. pretty much what I figured it would be. I’m a total fan of the original movie Bring It On, but a musical of this subject? Can we all say N O NO!!!!! (And I’m a former cheerleader and KNOW this was not a good idea to begin with!)

  2. Well, that’s what I was afraid of. And thank you for being the type of critic I like. The kind that points out the bad AND the good.

  3. Not sure what show you saw. The songs were good and while they won’t make the pop charts, they actually pushed the story along unlike many new shows nowadays. There were a couple of songs that were pre-recorded for obvious reasons, the cast was cheering in competition. The rest were sung and sung well. And I’m glad the plot wasn’t based on the movie which was a total bore. It was a fun evening in the theater and would definitely recommend it to others

  4. Your review of last night’s opening sucks big time. I loved the performance and, yes, you are right about not being able to sing any of the numbers afterward. The reason is that they are too complex and interesting for radio play and don’t attempt to hammer some repeated theme. They are more interesting with unexpected chord changes to keep you slightly off guard and unable to predict the next note. I have not seen any of the other shows you referred to so this composer is completely fresh to me and I thoroughly enjoyed the music, including the hip hop stuff, which I’m not a giant fan of but can appreciate when it’s done well, which it is in this show. I think the overall musical experience compares favorably to Billy Elliot, the most recent show I saw in N.Y. While it does not approach Chorus Line, my all time favorite show, I think that in terms of the music it deserves a lot more credit than you gave it. I also think the canned element was unnoticable and a non issue. To me the show had loads of heart and plenty of spirit. Didn’t you notice how much the audience enjoyed it? What’s that all about?

  5. I feel like we saw two different shows. I can’t see how anyone could not have enjoyed Bring it On. It is one of the best shows I have seen off Broadway and I see ALOT of live music and theater. The story was great, the cast was so talented and the material did them justice. The dancing was jive and the rapping was super groovy. I loved it! So did my 30 year old son and his girlfriend. I recommend it to everyone. I’m not even into cheerleading but know a good thing when I see it.

  6. I was talking to one of the musicians and I asked him about the pre-recorded aspects of the show and he says that most of the show is played by them in the pit. only a few songs are recorded. he even said that some of the songs that sound recorded are actually played live.

    1. He mentioned that people thought most of it was tracked, and was offended and angry that people believed that they did so little work. He went on to describe his job and how busy he is and how difficult it is. I’m not sure where you heard that most of the show is pre-recorded, but I don’t think you give these musicians enough credit.

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