By Manning Harris
As I walked out of the theatre at the sold-out opening night of Alliance Theatre’s new knockout show “Bring It On: The Musical,” my companion said, “It’s like we’re walking out into the middle of Times Square,” and I agreed. The buzz of excitement was so strong, the smiles of satisfied patrons so broad, and the tumult in the Arts Center lobby was so electric that it did indeed remind me of leaving a great hit show in the Big Apple.
To be quite honest I can’t recall the last time this has happened to me in an Atlanta production (I’m not counting superb touring companies such as the just finished “West Side Story” at the Fox). But as a theatre lover and a supporter of Atlanta theatre (Yes, ma’am, I am, or I wouldn’t be writing these reviews), I’m excited for the Alliance (our hometown Tony-winning troupe) and even more excited for the audience.
If you miss this show, you’ll miss a bona fide hit, so get your tickets right now, box office or online, because the show is running only until February 20.
So what’s all the fuss about? Susan Booth, the Alliance’s intrepid Artistic Director, has a theory that we’re all permanently bewitched and/or bedeviled by our high school years and our awe of “She Who Is a Cheerleader” and “He Who Is Her Boyfriend.” We may admit it or deny it, but those peculiar formative years of agony and ecstasy never entirely leave us. And we’re talking about more here than the current cult following of TV’s “Glee.” We’re talking about the cult of competitive cheerleading.
So, if you can (and the Alliance did), assemble a bunch of theatrical artists (virtually every one of them Tony winners): director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, librettist Jeff Whitty, composers and lyricists Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Amanda Green. Then bring in music supervisor/arranger/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire to bridge the disparate musical styles and you’ve got one astounding creative team; and Blankenbuehler says there were no ego problems, that “creating the show became a party.”
I believe it: This team is young and the cast even younger. Youthful exuberance pulsates in virtually every moment of “Bring It On,” in which Campbell (Amanda Lea LaVergne) is poised for triumph as the captain of her cheerleading squad, but young Eva (Kelly Felthous—a worthy descendant of Eve Harrington in “All About Eve”) arranges for Campbell to be transferred from Truman High to Jackson High, a whole new racial and cultural milieu, where Danielle (Adrienne Warren) rules the roost, hip-hop is king, and drag queen La Cienega (Gregory Haney) proves that self-confident individualism and loving relationships trump mindless competitiveness.
Does the plot sound a bit sophomoric? I assure you that the whole of “Bring It On” is far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s difficult to impart the power and visceral impact of this show. The dance/cheerleading sequences alone are breathtaking and even death-defying. The performers are quadruple-threat singers, dancers, actors, and athletes. 1600 people auditioned to fill 25 parts, and they come from everywhere. Standouts include Brandon Espinoza, Dominque Johnson, Stephanie Klemons, Michael Mindlin, Kate Rockwell, Jon Rua (very funny as Twig), Ephraim Sykes, and many others. Special mention for Jason Lyons for his brilliant lighting design; and David Korins, set design.
You’ll find a touch of “A Chorus Line,” “Rent,” and yes, “American Idol” here. Will the music last like “West Side Story”? Probably not. But this show has its own syntax. So hop on the “Bring It On” juggernaut. And as for your own high school memory? As Ms. Booth says, “Bring it.”