Still, "Bring It On" is basically inconsequential. I know that cheerleaders and their nearest will disagree, but for most of us, a story about kids from an urban high school vying for a national cheerleading title against kids from a privileged one is not such a compelling issue, even with helpings of intrigue. At intermission, I was thinking, gee, the dancing is fabulous and the cast, outstanding, but I don't frankly care if these characters live or die.
By the end of the show, at least I was curious about how the whole thing would turn out. You can't go too far wrong with a Rocky story done well, but we've been bombarded with so many, a new one has to be inventive to be anything more than routine. "Bring It On" is neither.
The music (by Tom Kitt, with Tonys for "Next to Normal," and Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Tony for "In the Heights") is fine and hops along, and you've heard music just like it hopping along before. The lyrics (by Miranda and Amanda Green) are often funny, much in the same vein as other lyrics in other underdog musicals. The characters (book by Jeff Whitty, a Tony for "Avenue Q") are well-drawn stereotypes and nicely represent many sides of growing up, without insight. The feel-good evolution of the show is skillfully crafted, and on Broadway these days, standard.
The dancing is the single element that electrifies "Bring It On," pushing its demands on the cast to the very edge. Andy Blankenbuehler, who won a Tony for his "In the Heights" choreography — hands-down the most exciting dancing on Broadway for the duration of its run — outdoes himself. (He also directs the show.) Blankenbuehler mixes dangerous gymnastics, hip-hop, circus-like showmanship and old-fashioned show dancing into a seamless two-act flash, and sets it on a cast that delivers it with the seeming ease of a finger-snap. When the huge cast of "Bring It On" is moving, nothing else about the show matters — it's pure joy.
"Bring It On" is full of fresh Broadway talent (and a great collection of legs). Taylor Louderman plays a blond-haired white cheerleader who falls from captain of her squad through no doing of her own. Adrienne Warren plays the leader of her black-'n-proud dance crew at another high school. Ryann Redmond is an outcast who finally joins an in-crowd when an ogler played by Nicolas Womack fixes his eyes on her, and Jason Gotay is the nice boy who sets things straight. All of them have great voices, fabulous moves and appealing stage presences, and they're backed by sterling performers. The scenery is largely lights (Jason Lyons) and a cool set of screens showing backgrounds or live and recorded action (Jeff Sugg's great video design).
Curiously, "Bring It On" is the second new Broadway musical within a year to have cheerleading as its basic theme. The other, "Lysistrata Jones," was a clever hoot about a group of high school cheerleaders who were ashamed of their losing basketball team and withheld sex until the boys began to win.
That show took its plot from the ancient play "Lysistrata," in which the women of Greece did the same to protest their warring men. "Lysistrata Jones" was wholly original, a hoot and offensive on its face to some theatergoers — particularly parents of high-school kids, I imagine. It did not last a month after it opened in December. "Bring It On" is solid, self-consciously inoffensive and derivative, and will probably be a hit. Such are the vagaries of Broadway.
Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at www.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
Bring It On is at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., New York.