Beck’s ‘Bring It On’ offers cheer-face and style over substance
By Bob Abelman
It has been suggested by experts like Oskar Eustis, the Artistic Director at New York City’s Public Theater, that Lin-Manuel Miranda – who penned the Tony Award-winning musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” – may be the next Shakespeare.
Miranda has, at a very young age, demonstrated incredible productivity, extraordinary popularity and a proclivity for turning the language of the people – in his case, hip-hop and rap – into heightened verse.
And, if it is true that the Bard did not always work alone, neither did Miranda in the making of “Bring It On: The Musical,” which is currently on stage at the Beck Center for the Arts in collaboration with Baldwin Wallace University’s Music Theatre Program.
“Bring It On” is loosely based on the 2000 film of the same name but features an original libretto by Tony Award winner Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”), music by Miranda and Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”), and lyrics by Miranda and Amanda Green (“High Fidelity”).
It revolves around a privileged, lily-white high school cheer captain named Campbell (Kailey Boyle) who gets redistricted from affluent Truman High to a struggling, primarily black inner-city school. There she transforms the homegrown Jackson High hip-hop crew, run by Danielle (Shayla Brielle) and her posse (Joy Del Valle and Michael Canada), into a cheerleading squad to compete against Campbell’s former team, now led by Skylar (Victoria Pippo), Kylar (MacKenzie Wright) and the divisive Eva (Abby DeWitte).
Teen-spirit and up-beat cheer-face aside, Miranda’s “Bring It On” is very much the equivalent of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline.” Both are lesser works with fleeting moments of art amidst a preponderance of artifice. And both are geared more for the people in the cheap seats seeking entertainment than those in the royal boxes seeking enlightenment.
“Bring It On’s” musical numbers are an interesting but unremarkable assemblage of pop-Broadway tunes that either fit the moment or fill a void in the storytelling rather than form a stylistically complex or thematically comprehensive score.
And the supporting characters – which include an awkward outsider (Shelby Griswold as the plus-size Bridget), a brain-dead jock (Jonathan Young as Steven), and an adorable love interest for the lead (Mike Cefalo as Randall) – are the same highly recognizable, go-to archetypes found in other high school-centric musicals like “Carrie” and “Heathers.”
These shows have also been performed at the Beck Center in collaboration with BW, no doubt because of their preponderance of young adult roles that showcase the triple-threat skills a BW education is known for.
“Bring it On” is particularly saturated with BW students and alum, from the director (Will Brandstetter) to the music director and his associate (Peter Van Reesema and Alyssa Kay Thompson), the cheerleading choreographer (Mary Sheridan), nearly every actor in the cast, the stage manager (Lucas Clark) and the guy behind the drum kit in the orchestra (Tyler Hawes).
Thanks to this talent pool between and behind the proscenium arch, and the chemistry they share, this production rises well above the material.
Director Brandstetter manages to bring all the funny moments in the script to the forefront, which are delivered to perfection by this cast, and is able to blend its fragmented elements into a more cohesive whole.
And every musical number is delivered with intensity, energy and precision. While Boyle as Campbell and Brielle as Danielle are absolutely incredible and practically own the stage every moment they are on it, the script gives generous face-time to the high-energy ensemble members who double as Truman and Jackson gymnasts and dancers. They’ve completely mastered the elaborate and always-interesting hip-hop choreography designed by Martín Céspedes as well as the high-flying, though often repeated, cheer choreography by Sheridan.
Preparation is another reason for this production’s success. On opening night, an injury to ensemble member Dan Hoy required the last-minute substitution of swing/understudy Veronica Otim, which was seamless.
All this takes place in a typical high school hallway, complete with second story scaffolding, created by scenic designer Jordan Janota. This space also serves as all the show’s locations with the assistance of Jason Lyons’ lighting, Adam Zeek’s projections and Carlton Guc’s sound.
This musical may not live up to the Miranda brand, but its performance certainly meets the high entertainment expectations of a Beck Center and BW production. CV
WHAT: “Bring It On: The Musical”
WHERE: Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood
WHEN: Through Feb. 26
TICKETS & INFO: $12 – $31, call 216-521-2540 or go to beckcenter.org
Bob Abelman covers theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Feb. 11, 2017.
Lead image: The kids from Jackson High. Photo | Roger Mastroianni