Bring It On
The smash hit cheerleading musical based on the 2000 film of the same name, Bring It On, comes to London for a limited run at Southwark Playhouse, performed by British Theatre Academy Youth.
Bring It On tells the story of Campbell (Robyn McIntyre), an ambitious high school student who longs to captain her school’s cheerleading squad to a win at Nationals. She makes captain, but her dreams are dashed when she is forced to relocate to another school. To make things worse, her new school Jackson High School doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad! Campbell’s only hope is to convince her fellow students at Jackson to start a new cheerleading squad to fulfil her dreams.
Despite critical acclaim and Tony Award nominations for the Broadway run of the show in 2011, Bring It On has struggled to make it over to this side of the pond. After a 2017 UK national tour was cancelled, this 2018 British Theatre Academy Youth Production is actually the first time the show has been performed on London soil. It means that there are a heap of expectations on the fun-filled high school classic, and for the most part it delivers. The British Theatre Academy Production is high-tempo, visually impressive and full of ambition.
Heading up the cast is Robyn McIntyre as the ambitious and authoritative Campbell, while Sydnie Hockwell is suitable foil as the manipulative Eva. Chisara Agor is fierce as Danielle, while Kristine Kruse goes from wallflower to an integral team member as Bridget. My personal favourites included the brilliant young talent Isabella Pappas as Skylar, who has both a beautiful voice and one of the best stink-eyes I have seen in theatre. Haroun Al-Jeddal as Randall has some of the show’s more touching moments, imbuing his performance with a kind of instant likeability.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s influence over the musical numbers in the show is clear and any fans of his will be hard pressed not to enjoy it. They are fresh and fun, with the particularly sharp lyrics that have become his trademark. Accompanying the music is a reimagined choreography from the Broadway production, more fitting of its young cast, but equally absorbing to watch. The cast look like they are having the time of their lives performing cheerleading-inspired sequences that include high jumps and lifts and impressive formations. It is so infectious I left the theatre wishing I could go to Jackson High School. Of the musical numbers, a highlight is “Do Your Own Thing” as well as the stunning extended Nationals performance “Cross The Line”. The Jackson ensemble numbers are easily the best – authentic in their wildness.
Despite the film being nearly twenty years old, the musical still feels fresh in 2018. It handles themes of race, prejudice and sexism with finesse, while offering a high-energy smart comedy. There are a few issues with pacing – it feels like it takes a long time for Campbell to get redistricted, even though this is the catalyst for the plot. Later, the Jackson team fly through cheerleading competitions to reach Nationals so fast it gives the audience whiplash. I also wasn’t convinced by the strength of Campbell and Danielle’s friendship before their falling out – so when this happened it seemed to come from nowhere. If Bring It On is to succeed on a larger scale, and honestly it deserves to be seen by a broader audience, these are problems that ought to be ironed out.
Bring It On packs a real punch and is a remarkable achievement for such a young company. There are a few issues, but overall it’s a fun and uplifting show that anyone who loves the genre will kick themselves for missing.
~ a guest review by Susy Brett