Bring It On didn’t seem like it’d become a seminal movie when it was released late in the summer of 2000. Peyton Reed’s cheerleading comedy became a surprise hit, but its value as a perennial, comfort-food rewatch didn’t emerge until, well, people had the chance to rewatch it. I saw it in theaters and liked it well enough; I saw it again a few months later at my college’s film series, and liked it more. I caught on cable a couple of times later, and eventually I bought the DVD. I suspect others had similar experiences, which is why the film has enjoyed such a substantial afterlife, with a series of direct-to-DVD movies and, now, a Broadway musical. I recently went to one of the final preview performances of the Broadway version (which officially opened August 1), and ran into Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of In the Heights and co-songwriter for this production (and a former college classmate of mine). We talked briefly about how we both remembered seeing the movie for the first time at a Destinta multiplex in Connecticut. It makes sense; in my head, every single person I went to college with has seen Bring It On at least once—if not several times.
Apart from the gratefulness that peppy mainstream movies with hilarious teenage girls tend to receive (see also Mean Girls, and I swear that Jennifer’s Body will have its revival some day!), Bring It On may have been a satisfying experience for many of us because at a time when big-screen musicals were not particularly popular, it smuggled in that form under the guise of a dance movie—itself under the guise of a sports movie. Indeed, Kirsten Dunst’s Torrance explains the athleticism of cheerleaders to a skeptic, and the movie has a charming running gag about how the Toros cheerleading squad has far greater acumen than the blundering football team it encourages. But despite the competitive nature, Bring It On is clearly a dance musical, with routines, choreography, and music. It’s just music that no one in the movie actually performs.
Bringing Bring It On to the stage, then, feels like a natural extension of the movie: finally, on Broadway, it’s allowed to embrace the full-throated musical-form it could only flirt with a decade ago. The stage version isn’t directly adapted from Jessica Bendinger’s screenplay; rather, it’s a new story with a cheerleading milieu and racial dynamics, not unlike the direct-to-video franchise. Basically, in a sea of cutely cheesy DVDs, Bring It On: The Musical is the best Bring It On spin-off/tribute ever.
Abandoning the movie’s story makes the musical feel fresh; what a relief not to endure another stage-show adaptation of a movie. Granted, there may not have been any rescuing the musical version of, say, Legally Blonde, but I did watch it with the sinking realization that I would have to sit through every worn-out beat of the movie’s middling screenplay, recreated on a larger, louder scale, and without Reese Witherspoon. No such trepidation accompanied me at Bring It On; it’s less saucy and more, well, theatrical than Reed’s film, which caught Dunst at her most tenacious, with supporting toughness from Gabrielle Union and Eliza Dushku. It might have an earnest ballad or two too many for my tastes, especially when one takes the place of the movie’s giddiest solo moment: Dunst rediscovering her love of cheerleading while bouncing on her bed to a song by her maybe-boyfriend Jesse Bradford (it was the year 2000; Jesse Bradford was a thing). But the stage show maintains the film’s good-hearted inclusiveness, snappish bits of dialogue, and infectious energy; it also has live acts of cheerleading, with actual bodies getting tossed around for the show’s big numbers. It’s a hell of a lot of fun—as strong a film-to-musical adaptation as I’ve seen in years and years.
As Bring It On finally goes full musical, its spawn continue to play in a theater near you: last weekend saw the release of Step Up Revolution, the fourth entry in the gold standard of dance-movie franchises. The first Step Up (which helped to launch a then-wooden Channing Tatum onto an unlikely movie star path; later costars were not as lucky) is far more romance than dance musical, but its sequels follow a different, more energetic formula, mixing and matching the putting on of a show, the saving of a beloved institution, the winning of competitive dance matches, and the self-actualization of conflicted young people everywhere.