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The 2000 teen comedy “Bring It On” is a cult classic. The 2012 musical of the same name likely won’t be. Borrowing the title and not much else, “Bring It On” relies on a formulaic, fairly conventional plot peppered with high-flying acrobatic cheerleading routines. It’s entertaining enough, especially for the mostly younger tween audience in attendance, but when you put “the musical” in your title, you promise that story and song will be central.
The musical creates a wholly new plot from the film, although it is still a well-worn one. White head cheerleader Campbell is redistricted during her senior year to a mostly black and hispanic high school. Cue the lessons about race, identity, and being yourself. Bridget, a slightly chubby girl who provides most of the comedy in the show, excels in the new school since she’s always been an outsider. Eventually, everyone learns something about themselves and a happily ever after ensues.
Throughout, the high-flying acrobatic work of the ensemble dazzles, as performers in red skirts are launched into the air almost as high as the mezzanine. A series of shifting digital screens add to the theatricality, transporting the action to different settings, whether a bedroom or basketball court, in a rather innovative way. The altogether aesthetic is a bit cartoonish, but when your subject matter is competitive cheerleading, it’s hard not to venture into Looney Tune territory.
With a writing team that combines talent from Avenue Q, In the Heights, and Next to Normal, one might expect “Bring It On” to be fresh, subversive, and full of catchy, diverse, and memorable songs. Instead it is rather mainstream musical comedy, which sadly lacks any songs that stand out. When the lyrics disappoint, the choreography dazzles almost as if to distract rather than enhance the plot. What’s most surprising about the book is a commendable move to feature a transgendered character in a strong supporting role. While many of the character’s laughs come from just being trans, a solo power ballad reveals a the obstacles she has overcome. “Is that a boy, Mommy?” the young boy in front of me asked mid-show. I didn’t catch his mother’s response, but the inclusion of a trans character in an otherwise dated musical comedy certainly opened the door for a teachable car-ride conversation on the way home.
Bring It On: The Musical is at its best when the cheerleaders are flipping and twirling across the stage. The final climax of the show is truly breath-taking, and is a marvelous convergence of poppy song with powerful dance that furthers the plot. Overall, the show is an entertaining night out, but don’t expect any emotional resonance to lift you off your feet.
Bring It On is bringing it at the Cadillac Palace through March 25. More information at BroadwayinChicago.com