There’s a lot of talent involved in this musical version of the 2000 cheerleading film that starred Kirsten Dunst: composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who won a Tony for In the Heights, and book writer Jeff Whitty, who won a Tony for Avenue Q. But why? The original movie seems to be fondly remembered, but also somehow forgettable; I heard three separate people in the audience mention that they had seen the movie and liked it, but couldn’t remember anything about it. (The show's book is not actually an adaptation of the screenplay, and you aren't likely to remember it, either.) It has even spawned four direct-to-video sequels, including such titles as Bring It On: In It to Win It and Bring It On: Fight to the Finish.
Bring It On, then, forgettable though it may be, is a kind of industry unto itself, and it would make sense, I suppose, that Miranda and Whitty (and co-lyricist Amanda Green) would want to get in on it. After all, cheerleading routines should at least lead to some memorable musical numbers, right? Not really. The dancing in Bring It On is loaded with tumbling and backflips and human pyramids; much of what appears on stage looks more like athletic routines than dance routines. If ways exist to lead these into other kinds of dance moves, director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler hasn’t found them.
Many of the performers make their Broadway debuts here, and most actually seem fresh out of school, which definitely helps. Taylor Louderman handles the lead with appropriate cheeriness, even when she’s stuck with boilerplate songs. Whitty's book involves an All About Eve conflict in which Louderman’s Campbell gets her life stolen by a satanic acolyte, Eva (Elle McLemore). Campbell is manipulated by Eva out of her school and gets transferred to another, where she struggles to fit in with girls who have no interest in forming a cheerleading squad with her.
McLemore pretty much steals the show with her late number “Eva’s Rant,” in which she takes enormous pleasure in her own evil, and Adrienne Warren is warm and appealing as Danielle, the coolest girl at Campbell’s transfer school. The show's template—misfits and outcasts banding together—was clearly set by Ryan Murphy’s unholy TV show Glee, but this musical is much better than that: less smarmy, genuinely grittier and upbeat. There’s a big hole, though, in Whitty’s book: Campbell does something shady, and shortly afterward Danielle forgives her—for no real reason except the show needs to end. Bring It On isn’t really about anything much, but it’s fairly winning, even with its flaws. Yet the question remains: why would Miranda and Whitty put so much time and effort into something so bland and trivial? Apparently just to Bring On the Money.