Bring It On at the Southwark Playhouse: a fun and uplifting production, if problematic
“No cheerleading squad? What’s the point of school?” Cheerleaders Campbell, Skylar and Kylar lament to one another in The British Theatre Academy’s youth production of Bring It On the Musical,marking the UK debut of the show at the Southwark Playhouse. The 2000 cult‑classic film starring Kirsten Dunst has spawned numerous direct-to-video sequels, and this production can be seen as a continuation in line with the inferior franchise. Although sharing the same name as the film, the plot and characters vastly differ, and the musical’s story, written by Jeff Whitty, is underwhelming in comparison. Issues such as race, cultural appropriation, and socio-economic disparities, which feature rather heavily in the film, are only briefly touched upon in the musical, and rather shallowly at that. With Lin-Manuel Miranda as one of the writers of the lyrics and music, this is somewhat disappointing. Nonetheless, Director and Choreographer Ewan Jones has produced a fun and uplifting production, and the cast members bring a lot of joy into their work.
Cheerleader Campbell (Robyn McIntyre) has it all: friends, a cute boyfriend, and she’s just been elected Cheer Captain. However, disaster (nefariously) strikes, and Campbell has to transfer from the posh and privileged Truman High to inner city Jackson High, which doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad. At Jackson, she meets Danielle (Chisara Agor) and her hip-hop crew, and she connivingly convinces them to form a cheerleading squad to defeat her Truman nemesis Eva (Sydnie Hocknell) at Nationals.
Both the film and the Broadway musical are known for their elaborate routines, combining classical cheerleading moves with complicated dance choreography. Unfortunately, this production is somewhat restricted due to the Southwark Playhouse’s relatively small size. The cast is obviously talented, and the dancers do some impressive flips, but Jones’ choreography inevitably must be restrained. Nonetheless, the routines which take place at Nationals are fun and energetic. Considering how hot and balmy press night was, the cast was especially impressive in smiling through the humidity.
Set and Costume Designer Tom Paris has created a minimal set. Bright pink and yellow lockers provide the backdrop to the stage, and simple props such as a bench, or a mirror differentiate the location. Although minimal, the set works due to the bright colour scheme that Paris has adapted. Truman High is filled with pink costumes and props, while Jackson students wear green. These bright costumes work surprisingly well and help create a unified set.
The cast is really the highlight of this production, as each cast member brings great exuberance to his or her role. The British Theatre Academy provides training and performance opportunities for youths under the age of 23, regardless of socioeconomic background, and it is refreshing to see high schoolers played by a cast who are close to the right age. Robyn McIntyre, who plays peppy Campbell, shows great range, being able to belt longingly, while also being able to entertainingly dance in a leprechaun suit. Chisara Agor brings great sincerity to her role as Danielle, and Sydnie Hocknell plays the devious Eva quite humorously. Isabella Pappas who plays the popular Skylar is a standout, stealing the stage whenever she is on. Her moment at the end when she complains to the audience that she hasn’t had an emotional journey like the rest of the characters is hilarious. The rest of the cast is also talented.
This production is by no means perfect, and it has problems, but, as Campbell tells Skylar: “someone needs to put bitter bitch Bobby back in her box.” If you’re looking for a fun and spirited production, Bring It On the Musicalis definitely an enjoyable night out.
Bring It On the Musical will be playing at the Southwark Playhouse until September 1, 2018.
Feature photograph: Eliza Wilmot