Bring It On: The Musical – Theatre Review, Spotlight Youth Theatre, Glendale

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At first glance, staging the energetic and demanding Bring It On: The Musical at Spotlight Youth Theatre in Glendale seems overly ambitious.  The choreography is both tough and challenging, the energy required is non-stop, plus the demands of its staging require a taller and wider platform than the one Spotlight can offer.  But look closer.  Considering its subject, its intended audience, and the age-group required to make it work, it’s actually an inspiring choice.

Like the theatre’s earlier production of the controversial Spring Awakening, the characters of Bring It On: The Musical are teenagers.  Instead of Spotlight’s youthful cast playing dress-up while pretending to be older, here everyone is once again age-appropriate; the world of Bring it On has no room for adults.  Plus, because of its occasionally spectacular dance routines and the difficulty of singing with strong voices while delivering those complicated moves, in order to work, the production can’t take the easier route and simply recreate what was done before and hope for the best.  It has to adapt to its local theatre setting but without losing any of that mandatory spectacle or vitality.  Kenny Grossman, whose directorial choices have repeatedly proven he’s up to the challenge, has done exactly that.  The musical, as presented, may not have the epic scale as it appeared on the Broadway stage or even on the national tours, but given the limitations set by Spotlight’s intimate theatre, this production, re-shaped, adjusted and presented by an undeniably talented youthful cast, is ultimately a genuine crowd-pleaser.

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Despite taking its inspiration from the 2000 Kirsten Dunst movie, it’s only the name that remains the same.  If you were hoping to see something seen before but now with the addition of songs, you might be disappointed, though you shouldn’t.  The musical bears little resemblance to its big screen counterpart.  The characters are changed, the plot is different and the life-lessons learned had no place in the original, though interestingly, the development of the central character having to move from one school to the other because of a redistricting requirement comes from one of the four straight-to-video sequels, Bring It On: All Or Nothing.

The plot revolves around young Campbell Davis (Carly Grossman, here displaying a talent for comedy in addition to her singing and dancing abilities) whose cheerleading life at Truman High is about to come crashing down.  For her, cheerleading is everything.  When attempting a pep talk to the nervous Eva (Jasmine Bassham, effectively conniving as a teenage All About Eve equivalent), Campbell insists that, “Being a cheerleader is like being a Marine; you’ve signed your life away.”

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Then it happens.  Campbell and the somewhat nerdy Bridget (a funny Maggie Waller, with a hairdo inspired by the Arrietty Clock character from The Borrowers) both receive letters explaining they’re redistricted to a nearby inner-city school, Jackson High, where, horror upon horror, it doesn’t have a cheerleading squad.  “What’s the point of even having a school?” asks Campbell’s friend, Skylar (the suitably snarky Ava Tyson).

The earlier, establishing moments, when the pert and very blonde Campbell achieves her goal of being the captain of the somewhat privileged Truman High School cheerleading squad, are great fun as the production leaps from song to song without a breath, culminating with Campbell’s emotional solo, One Perfect Moment.  But it’s when the nightmare of having to move to the inner-city school of Jackson High where the production gets its edge and really kicks in to high gear.  There may be no cheerleaders at Jackson, but the characters are more than capable of expressing complicated moves of their own, as shown by Jackson’s dance crew with Do Your Own Thing.  The production delivers its best number when the three principle players from Jackson, Danielle (Phoebe Koyabe), Nautica (Katie Czajkowski) and the cross-dressing LaCienga (Trey DeGroodt) perform the expressive We Ain’t No Cheerleaders.

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There’s also the nice touch of two video monitors, courtesy of Bobby Sample and Luke Bader, that are effectively used throughout, first as a digital countdown to begin the show, next as an illustration to visually explain Campbell’s redistricting nightmare (followed by a hellish explosion) and then as a way of displaying characters who Skype.

The cast is huge.  When everyone is assembled, the stage is packed to the rafters, but each performer, including the large, supporting ensemble, hit their targets with equal success.  With musical direction and choreography from husband and wife team, Mark and Lynzee 4man, voices fill the auditorium – Phoebe Koyabe as the street-wise Danielle is authentic in her performance and outstanding as a singer – and bodies twist, turn, whirl, roll and fly through the air without the need for wires. The production can’t display those towering cheerleading pyramids that were repeatedly seen in clips to hype the New York presentation, so don’t expect them, but Spotlight’s large scale dance numbers, as with the opener and the climactic battle between Jackson High and Truman High, create the illusion of being airborne all the same.

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In terms of weight, the book is slight and holds little surprises when it comes to character reveals and plot developments – though, admittedly, the end result of the cheerleading Nationals is unexpected – plus the songs, while suiting the moment, are not particularly memorable, but Bring It On: The Musical is an unabashedly loud and cheerfully upbeat production with great crowd appeal.  And there’s something else to keep in mind.  As with characters who will soon be moving out of the comfort zone of high school and into the unpredictable real world, so it will be for the performers playing them, making for a bittersweet feeling when some of the cast take their bow at Spotlight for the last time.  It’s something to think about when you give the cast a deserved standing-o.

For more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the official Spotlight Youth Theatre website.

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