Book: Jeff Whitty
Music and Lyrics: Amanda Green, Tom Kitt, and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Director: Ewan Jones
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
The youthful cast of this American high school musical certainly bring it on, but it’s a shame that the Southwark Playhouse didn’t bring on some air conditioning. Although Bring It On occasionally reaches camp zeniths, it’s the audience that remains smoking hot.
Despite the heat, there’s lots to like about this musical first seen in America in 2011, a collaboration between some high-flyers in musical theatre; some of the music and lyrics are by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda while the book is by Avenue Q’s Jeff Whitty. In this UK premiere, Bring It On has been produced by The British Theatre Academy, which seeks to offer theatre skills to young people under the age of 23 regardless of their economic background. On the evidence of this show, the Academy is doing a splendid job.
While inspired by the 2000 film of the same name, Whitty’s plot to Bring It Onis quite different. Campbell, captain of the cheer squad at Truman High, suddenly finds herself at a new school, the rough and tough Jackson High. In Truman, they sing, but in Jackson, they rap. In Truman they have cheer squads; in Jackson, they have dance crews. And if she wants to be part of the crew, then Campbell has to impress its leader, streetwise, no-nonsense Danielle. Before long, Campbell is whipping this crew into shape.
With pupils from both schools being part of the action, there is, necessarily, a large cast. Over 20 actors squeeze, albeit very lithely, onto the handkerchief-sized stage, which is surrounded on three sides by the audience. With so many people on set it’s hard to appreciate some of the cleverer moves in director Ewan Jones’s choreography, but he keeps the action fast and taut, and lots of the ensemble keep on their rucksacks for their dances, a cute detail.
A perennial problem with Southwark Playhouse’s musicals is the sound quality, and Bring It Onis no exception. Because everyone is miked, it is sometimes difficult to know who is singing, and often the sound is distorted and words get lost, especially in the numbers in which everyone sings. But the catchiness of the songs makes up for this, particularly in the second half when the two schools prepare for their showdown. These poppy musical numbers – with a bit of rap here and a bit of ska there – don’t disappoint. Cross the Line and I Got You are worthy showstoppers delivered with guts and panache.
As Campbell, Robyn McIntyre perfects the nasally tones of an American schoolgirl and she’s well supported by Sydnie Hocknell who plays her nemesis Eva, and who belts out Killer Instinct. Misfit Bridget is played cheekily and sympathetically by Kristine Kruse while Haroun Al-Jeddal gives an impressively understated performance as Campbell’s love interest, Randall. The energy and the commitment of all the cast is remarkable, considering they had already performed a matinee on the same day as press night.
The hard work of all involved can quite dispel the idea that this production needs a bigger stage where the dance routines can really shine, and where the band aren’t hidden by a row of lockers (though I was promised that the musicians were really there). But this company do well with what they’ve got, and, refreshingly, despite the publicity’s photographs, not a pom-pom in sight!
Runs until 1 September 2018 | Image: Eliza Wilmot