Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed & choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler
Set Design by David Korins
Costume Design by Andrea Lauer
Lighting Design by Jason Lyons
Sound Design by Brian Ronan
Video Design by Jeff Sugg
Reviewed Performance 2/14/2012
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Cheerleading. A subject I have no knowledge of nor experience in. I've seen cheerleading college competitions on ESPN though. Now, as for the 2000 film Bring It On starring Kristen Dunst, I have seen that film several times. But I had no interest in viewing the four sequels that followed (all of them went directly to video release).
Thus, walking into the Music Hall I expected to see an adaptation of the 2000 film version. I was dead wrong. The creators actually use the plot from one of the sequels as its source. So be prepared, as you won't be watching the film that has a cheerleader captain named Torrance trying to win nationals even though she has bitchy teammates, and a Goth/rocker chick who joins the team whose brother Torrance falls for. However, the one story line from the first film that is in the musical, is that of an urban high school.
This new musical's basic plot is of a rich white girl, Campbell, who is captain of a cheerleading squad that has won Nationals at the wealthy affluent Truman High School. But out of nowhere she has to transfer, due to school redistricting, to urban Jackson High School. Now she is no longer the popular one. She struggles to fit in with the female "crew" but succeeds and persuades them to create a cheerleading squad. Turns out that the sophomore at her old high school is now captain and transforms into a little Eve Harrington! Along the way there is conflict, mistrust, lost friendships, revenge, and of course, love.
Bring It On The Musical originated in January 2011 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. The national tour kicked off at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in November 2011.
It's strange how paths cross in life. When I saw the original Broadway production of FOSSE there were several dancers I just had to meet, including one named Andy Blankenbuehler. His dance technique was flawless and his stage presence kept your eyes drawn back to him. We had a very interesting stage door chat after the show about recreating the great work of Fosse. Years later, he has now become a Tony Award winning choreographer, for In the Heights in 2008. Now he has added Director to his resume with this national tour of Bring It On.
Blankenbuehler has a pedigree of shimmering Broadway talent on his creative team. Jeff Whitty's libretto is hip, up to date, and overflowing with topical references; everything from Youtube, Google, even Bristol Palin. Whitty's libretto doesn't strive to be some dramatic piece with deep subtext. It's a hysterical piece of festive fluff that fully entertains. Whitty won the Tony for the book for another topical musical, Avenue Q.
There are two composers for this musical - Tom Kitt who won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and two Tony Awards for his smash hit, Next to Normal, and Lin-Manuel Miranda who won the Tony for his score of In the Heights. Talk about two completely different worlds of music composition. Kitt writes more from the rock and heavy ballad world of musical theater while Miranda composes urban rap, Cuban, and hip hop. By a stroke of pure luck, both composers mesh together in sizzling harmony, as the songs for their score are smashing. The score is a concoction of techno dance music, hip hop, rap, heartfelt ballads, and frothy, up-tempo pop sprinkled throughout Whitty's side splitting libretto. Miranda and Amanda Green's lyrics are a melange of strong character development, plot structure, and are wickedly funny.
It is a shame though that the songs are not listed in the Playbill. So alas, the audience does not know the titles to any of the songs.
Blankenbuehler's direction & cardio choreography are sensational. He has a great eye for detail, keeping the pace moving without ever allowing a second of dead air on the stage. The blocking and staging for this large cast never looks cumbersome or lackluster. It has drive and is always appealing to the eye. Even the scene changes are choreographed. Instead of just set pieces moving in by themselves, he creates dance to move lockers, benches, and gym mats. During a ballad in Act I he has the men ensemble members stand in dramatic poses, and then slowly moves the lockers off stage in perfect unison and tempo to the beats of the ballad.
He has combined very complex, difficult cheerleading techniques, lifts, basket throws, and flips, and synthesizes it perfectly with Broadway/pop-style choreography. It is not all cheerleading tricks, but a solid balance of both tricks and choreography.
The choreography for this musical is eye candy to the max. The cheerleading sections look both dangerous and exhilarating! Some of the girls are tossed so high into the air you swear they touch the roof the Music Hall. Many of the musical numbers have jaw dropping, massive cardio work out choreography that this cast pulls off superbly. Their energy is so pumped up you wonder if they are given injections of Red Bull backstage between scenes.
David Korins' scenic design, Jason Lyons' lighting design, and Jeff Sugg's video design are the stars of the show when it comes to production elements. Korins has various set pieces glide in and out. He has massive backdrops that are used for the cheerleading competition scenes. But the best part are the four massive hanging squares that configure, twist, spin, and create visually appealing walls. These four hanging blocks allow Jeff Sugg to splash a marvelous myriad of video images, from star bursts to rainbows to stadium lighting, even a hilarious internet video chat. There is also a very funny scene involving the use of Google maps. They have used today's technology with scenic and video design to create a feast for the eyes.
Then there is Jason Lyons' mouth watering spectacular lighting design. His light plot contains close to 70% LED, making it one of the environmentally greenest shows of its size. There are over 1100 light cues built into the musical - and it shows. It's been a long time that I've seen a musical that has so many light cues. And the colors! The hues, shades and color palette Lyons has used is rich and exquisite. The lighting has a techno house rave aura, but with Broadway pizzazz. The colors glow like pastel jolly ranchers. Lyons lighting design is phenomenal!
The production team auditioned over 3,000 performers before casting this first rate group. To find a cast that can sing, act, dance, and do deft-defying cheerleading techniques is a tall order to fill, and yet they succeed. The ensemble alone features some of the nation's most skilled competitive cheerleaders. They include members that have over 25 national and 50 team titles in gymnastics and choreography. Once you see this show you will see why they earned those titles! This is a superior ensemble that adds layers of immense pleasure to the show.
The company is sprinkled with several exceptional performances from Kate Rockwell as Skylar, the bitchy co-captain at Truman HS; Jason Gotay as Campbell's love interest Randall; Elle McLemore as Eva (the character name fits since she does become an Eve Harrington-in a cheerleader outfit); Ariana Debose as the sassy Nautica; and Nicholas Womack as Twig (he generates a lot of laughs with his performance).
A major stand out within the cast is Neil Haskell as Steven. He begins as Campbell's boyfriend at Truman but then ends up with Eva once poor Campbell is transferred to Jackson High. If you are as an addictive fan of FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance" reality dance show as I am, then Haskell should ring a bell for you. He was 2nd runner up in Season 3. He returned for season 7 as an All Star performer. Haskell actually has a musical theater background and does have a terrific singing voice. But sadly here is where the creators dropped the ball in character development for Haskell's character. His role sorely lacks a major solo and Haskell's talent demands it. The role has a major plot twist (a hysterical ending is created for him during the finale), but he has no major song. Haskell also has terrific comedic timing, pace, and delivery. He steals several scenes when he appears on stage. His dancing is as dazzling as it was when he was on SYTYCD. Haskell is incredibly impressive in this musical.
Taylor Louderman takes on the lead role of Campbell. This girl looks like Aphrodite come to life, but in a cheerleader skirt. Louderman carries the show with spunky charm and winsome sweetness. She has several songs that display a very strong soprano voice surrounded with a balanced vibrato. Her belt within her voice is vibrant. What is so impressive about her performance is, even after doing all those cheerleading stunts and pop choreography, she sings effortlessly without sounding out of breath. This talented thespian also has a keen sense of comic timing and delivery. Her chemistry with both Haskell and Gotay, as her past and current love interests, is strong and charming. She is bathed in radiant stage presence that has the audience's attention from her first moment onstage to the last.
If you saw last season's Dallas Summer Musicals national tour of Dreamgirls, then you would remember Adrienne Warren's performance as Lorrell. Now she returns as Danielle, the leader of the all female "crew" at Jackson HS. Warren has a soulful, pop, golden set of vocal pipes that make each of her solos and duets magical. In fact, her voice is so powerful she out sings Louderman in a power ballad duet in the second act. Warren, as in Dreamgirls, shows a hysterical comedic talent that is encased within this ebony goddess. She is so sexy and has a crackling, fiery stage presence that would make Nicki Minaj stay backstage, huddled in a corner covering her face with that massive red cape she wore during her Sunday Grammy Awards performance. Warren delivers a dynamite performance in Bring It On.
But there are two performances that literally steal the show from the leads - Gregory Haney as La Cienega and Ryann Redmond as Bridget.
Redmond, a zaftig gal with an adorable face, portrays Bridget, who at Truman HS is stuck having to be the school's Parrot mascot even though she keeps trying out for the team. She too is transferred to Jackson HS where the tables are turned and she becomes one hot, sexy girl welcomed into Danielle's crew automatically. She also has some hilarious scenes with Twig professing his love, admiration, and attraction for her. Redmond has the best comedic chops within the cast. She lands several hysterical one-liners that had the audience roaring in laughter and applauding her loudly. This girl is a riot and creates some of the best comedy of the night.
The other comedic firestorm is Mr. Haney as La Cienega, who goes to Jackson HS and is part of Danielle's crew. La Cienega is never really defined here in the book. He is either a drag queen or a transe*ual. Regardless, his comedic pace, timing, and delivery steals the show! He has one of the best laughs of the night in the second act. Each time Haney arrives on stage, he chews the scenery `till only splinters and curtain shreds are left on the stage. He knows exactly when to add that extra moment, gesture, or vocal inflection to generate loud guffaws from the audience. It was actually quite touching and moving how much the opening audience embraced Haney's performance and character. Instead of uncomfortable laugher or a cold shoulder that this type of character would normally draw from a conservative audience, they instead embraced him and showered him with thunderous applause at curtain call.
Haney has created a scene stealing character that the audience clearly adores. For La Cienega to have no big solo for himself is such a letdown for the audience. Like Haskell's character & talent, the creators have another stand out in Haney to create one big solo for him. I hope the composers will begin to notice that Haney's performance is incredible enough to create a song for him.
Bring It On The Musical is pure fun and enjoyment. It knows what it is, a musical to entertain. It is not written to dive into the dark, dramatic waters of layered subtext musical theater. It is not trying to be the next Rent or Sondheim masterpiece. Instead, it is just a fantastic, hilarious, highly energetic musical that delivers on all levels. I raise a big set of gold, sparkling Mylar pom-poms in the air. Then lead with an ear-splitting cheer to DFW audiences that they must do a cartwheel, and then get thrown into the air high enough to land in a seat at the Music Hall. By the curtain call of Bring It On, you too will be looking for your own set of pom-poms to cheer this extraordinary cast, dazzling design, and out of this world choreography! Sis-Boom-Bah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Dallas Summer Musicals has a boffo hit with Bring It On The Musical!!
BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (National Tour)
Dallas Summer Musicals
Music Hall at Fair Park
909 First Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210
Runs through February 26th
Performances are Tuesday ? Sunday at 8:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm, with an extra performance Thursday, Feb. 23rd at 2:00 pm. The closing performance is Sunday, Feb. 26th at 2:00 pm.
Single tickets, priced from $15.00-$85.00, are on sale now at The DSM Box Office, 5959 Royal Lane in the Preston Royal Shopping Center. Tickets are also available by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or online at www.ticketmaster.com. For groups of 15 or more, please call 214-426-GROUP.