Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Bring It On: The Musical
Without Miranda's contribution, the musical would be merely cute but uninspired. Indeed, that is how the early scenes play out, with their focus entirely on the stereotypical middle-American Truman High School cheerleaders. When the action shifts, however, to Jackson High Schoollocated in a former Irish immigrant neighborhood that is now an ethnic melting potMiranda's distinctive songwriting kicks in, and elevates the material to a joyful romp. Throw in a dancing leprechaun, and what's not to like?
Perky, blonde and insanely slender high school senior Campbell has just been elected captain of Truman's cheerleading squad, her entire life now focused on leading the squad to victory and a humongous trophy at nationals. At the squad's tryouts, she takes pity on the spirited but diminutive and somewhat klutzy Eva, and persuades her snarky senior teammates Skylar and Kylar to give Eva her shot. (See what I did there, Hamilton fans?) Then, suddenly and mysteriously, a last-minute redistricting plan severs Campbell from her team and reassigns her to the intensely urban Jackson High, whichshockinglydoesn't even have a cheerleading squad. Equally mysterious events cause Skylar and Kylar to be sidelined from competition, and Eva emerges as Truman's new team captain. What's up with that?
What Jackson High lacks in cheerleading prowess, it more than makes up for in its kinetically brilliant hip hop crew. Will Campbell ever fit in at her new school? Will her dream of making it to nationals be shattered? What will become of Bridget, the overlooked and body-shamed girl hidden inside Truman's sweaty mascot costume, who is forced to join Campbell in her urban exile? How important is that trophy, anyway? And what does a dancing leprechaun have to do with anything?
Yes, the story is formulaic and predictable, and one or two of the book scenes are a slog, but the combination of smart and funny lyrics with a fine cast of young and energetic singer/dancer/actors brings the show to life. Taylor Ann Powers is a classic triple threat as Bridget, with strong comic skills and a terrific belt, not to mention impressive stage presence for a 19-year-old. The talented Dominique Stewart is both tough and vulnerable as Danielle, the acknowledged leader of Jackson's hip hop crew. As the lovestruck Twig, who falls hard for Bridget's curves, Jonathan Anders proves once again what a gifted actor he is. Lynnae Meyers brings heart to the self-described "biotch" Skylar and reveals a fine singing voice as well. Jenna Szoke (a genuine high school student) is also strong as her sidekick Kylar. As Eva, Miranda Lopez is a pint-sized powerhouse and a fierce vocalist; her "Killer Instinct" almost stops the show. Kenneth Veal has great moves as crew dancer La Cienega.
Compared to the other characters, the role of Randall (who befriends Campbell at Jackson High) is awkwardly written, shifting from techno-geek to stud-muffin to wise-beyond-his-years life-coach solely to meet the plot's demands. While he cannot overcome the writing flaws completely, the capable Gianni Matteo maintains the character's believability despite the shifting ground.
Last but certainly not least, Katie Marie Jones carries off the difficult ingenue role of Campbell with style. She is the glue that holds the production together. Depending on your perspective, Campbell can be many thingsa nice kid, an airhead, a manipulator, a gutsy survivor, or all of the above. Jones keeps our sympathy even when Campbell disappoints us, so that we actually care whether this phoenix will rise again. And damn, girlthat leprechaun dance!
Director Troy Heard keeps a lively pace, and choreographers Alex Ferdinand and Jayme Server ably showcase the talent and athleticism of the large dance ensemble. One could wish for a live orchestra, although the reliance on recorded music may be partly excused by the conventions of cheerleading and hip hop. Happily, under Mark Wherry's musical and vocal direction, the vocals soar without sacrificing the lyrics. Indeed, some much more seasoned performers could take diction lessons from these youthful singers. Credit for this success should be shared with sound designer Kat Gonzalez, who largely conquers the challenge of the outdoor setting.
Even if cheerleading ain't your thang, Bring It On is worth seeing for its gifted performers, clever songwriting, and, of course, that darn leprechaun.
Bring It On: The Musical continues through August 27, 2016 (Wednesday-Saturday at 8 pm) at the Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, 6375 NV Route 159, Las Vegas (on Blue Diamond Road, in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just north of Bonnie Springs Ranch). For tickets ($12.95 general admission; $20 at the gate if available; bring chair or blanket or rent a chair onsite) or further information, go to www.supersummertheatre.org. The show is performed without an intermission. Parking is free.