Southwark Playhouse, London – until 1 September 2018
‘She’s a little bit Hairspray, he’s a little bit Glee …’ is not actually a lyric from Bring It On, a high school musical being given a sparky showcase by the British Theatre Academy at Southwark Playhouse, but it might as well be.
In fact, if you’ve seen any two of Hairspray, Mean Girls, Heathers, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Legally Blonde, In the Heights or Carrie, you’ve already explored all the memes in this show.
There are so many derived strands of plot – it’s practically a weave, gurl – but the most obvious steal is how a Tracy Turnblad-esque girl who doesn’t fit in to her Heathers-esque cheerleading squad, finds acceptance when transferred to a mixed-race high school where the ‘junk in her trunk’ and her bustin’ hip-hop moves get her elected to the local Blazin’ Squad. Did someone write this on the back of a fag packet? Jeff Whitty’s book is that simple.
So what you’re left with is the music, and that comes from two impressive sources. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mr Hamilton) pens the Jackson school beats and Tom Kitt (Mr Next to Normal) seems to have written most of the material for the straight-white Truman school kids. In this competition, Miranda wins because all the energy and style of the show is captured in his street-influenced R&B. I think Kitt is less well served because the creators of this oeuvre didn’t capitalise on the cleverness of the soft rock and smart lyrics which made Next to Normal for me one of the best shows that never crossed the pond.
Performances are as crisp and as detailed as the material allows, highlighting the ‘triple threat’ skills taught at Bird College, Mountview and Central as well as the BTA itself. It’s great to see younger students given the chance to perform with such good production values. The choreography looks faithful to Andy Blankenbuehler‘s Broadway blueprint, relentless with tumbling, backflips, human pyramids and acrobatics. The crossover with Olympic-qualifying gym routines seems inescapable, but what else are you supposed to do with high-energy teenage characters?
Valuing Bring It On as a modern stage musical – it pushes no boundaries, its message of inclusiveness is more saccharine than The Lion King, and both its principal composers will be admired for their significantly better original works. It’s never going to join the canon alongside Rodgers and Hammerstein or Rice and Lloyd Webber. But it will earn its creators royalties for ever – there are 36,000 secondary schools in the United States and every last one of them will do Bring It On at some point.
If you’re a fan of the movie franchise, you’re bound to enjoy this. If you’re an old fart who thinks cheerleading, nationals, regionals, tryouts and whether Kylar, Skylar or Mylar gets a hickey just reinforce why you couldn’t see the point of Glee after the first series … stay home.
until 1 September