Watching Fabian Aloise’s engaging and energetic choreography is sure to bring a smile to your face
Despite its connection to Musical-Theatre-Man-of-the-Minute Lin-Manuel Miranda, and linked to a cult classic noughties film, Bring It On: The Musical is undeniably the least known Miranda musical. When introduced to news of its Southbank Centre run, expect responses such as “I didn’t even know there was a musical of Bring It On” or “Christ, they’ll make a musical out of anything these days”. Be that as it may – and there are an awful lot of film adaptations on the West End at the moment (Frozen, The Lion King, Mary Poppins, The Prince of Egypt (RIP), Pretty Woman, Moulin Rouge, Back to the Future and Heathers: The Musical, with runs of Dirty Dancing and Grease still to come this year) – audiences can rest assured that Bring It On: The Musical is not a musical remake of 2000’s film starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union.
In fact, Bring It On: The Musical shares about as much with Bring It On as the sequels do, which is decidedly little. The chief binding agent between these movies and the musical is the presence of high school cheerleading. Bring It On: The Musical follows enthusiastic and ambitious Campbell (Amber Davies) who finally achieves her goal of becoming cheer captain at Truman High School. Before the dust even settles, however, she finds her life torn apart when she is redistricted to inner-city school Jackson High, where she finds it far more challenging to fit in.
This is the backdrop for the musical’s exploration of the importance of true friendship and accomplishment coming from within instead of external accolades. With multiple Tony winners behind it, Bring It On: The Musical has some truly fantastic elements, mainly deriving from the score and the choreography, as the book by Jeff Whitty is nothing in particular to write home about, merely leading the audience through the motions of many typical high school stories.
Sonically and choreographically the show has two different modes, which are achieved very successfully. There’s the polished and precise movement accompanied by dance-pop within Truman High School, while Jackson High is characterised by hip-hop and R’n’B – where Miranda’s influence in particular can be keenly felt. It’s this transition into the halls of Jackson where the musical truly comes alive, lighting the stage with electrical energy and infectious rhythm. “Do Your Own Thing”, “We Ain’t No Cheerleaders” and “It’s All Happening” are all stand-outs, with engaging and dynamic staging coupled with brilliantly soaring melodies and harmonies.
There aren’t many musical moments which do not satisfy the audience. The first few numbers are exposition-heavy, and sometimes tricky to catch every word straight out of the gate. Act 2 number “Enjoy The Trip” is surprisingly touching, though lyrically uninspired. “Something Isn’t Right Here” is also joyously upbeat, with a summery, pulsating, syncopated reggae beat. “It Ain’t No Thing” is a brilliantly sassy group number in Act 2.
Originally planned for a 2020 Tour, Bring It On: The Musical has hardly been plain sailing on its way to the Southbank Centre, via Portsmouth. Delayed by the pandemic, Bring It On also had to cancel a slew of performances over the festive period as a result of COVID cases within the company and also had to cast an additional four swings. Despite this, the quality of performance is nothing short of stellar. Each ensemble member is tasked with a Herculean amount of gymnastic strength and it’s clear that director Guy Unsworth has placed the success of this show upon the quality of the music, dance and gymnastics.
Holding the entire performance together is Amber Davies as Campbell. Despite achieving household recognition from appearing on Love Island, Davies is in fact musical theatre trained at Urdang and navigates the score with seeming ease. Whether a quiet ballad or fiercely belting, Davies’ voice never falters, delivering every word of Miranda and Green dense, spitfire lyrics with clear diction. She clearly feels very comfortable on stage, and ably leads the performance.
Elsewhere, Vanessa Fisher portrays Danielle, the alpha within Jackson with a fierce confidence, while also managing to create nuance within this portrayal. With sassy, accomplished dance moves and spectacularly rich vocals, Fisher shines just as brightly as Davies does here. Chelsea Hall is also infinitely watchable as former-outcast-turned-popular-girl Bridget, bringing much comic relief; and Alicia Belgarde is a hoot, switching modes from composed perfection to unhinged insanity. For what it’s worth, Connor Carson is also charming as Randall, though it is an underdeveloped part on the page.
As for the other star name advertised to sell Bring It On, Louis Smith doesn’t contribute too much to the overall performance. The part that he plays – despite getting penultimate bow (an absolute travesty) – is second to last on the Wikipedia page, so that perhaps demonstrates the amount of featured time that he has. A couple of awkwardly rapped lines here or there and a backflip in Act 2 is about the extent to which this ensemble part does anything. In fact, without it being a stunt cast, Cameron likely would have had more to do, but Smith looks so uncomfortable and out of place amongst the more seasoned performers that it’s perhaps for the best that he is consigned to the back.
A roaring success of the show is its supremely talented ensemble. Whether providing R&B inspired body rolls, to the disciplined lines of competitive cheer leading, flipping and tumbling across the show like whirling dervishes, they continually shine and never falter when it comes to energy. It’s their appeal that allows the set, while initially impressive looking, to be more minimal, as the true focus is upon the collective routines.
Bring It On: The Musical is truly incredible. If ever there was a musical that had to be seen to be believed, the adage certainly applies here. Through what it lacks in book it more than makes up for in its effervescent, energetic enthusiasm.
Bring It On: The Musical is currently playing at the Queen Elizabeth Room at Southbank Centre until 22 January, and then continues with its UK Tour. More information can be found here.