Inspired by the 2000 movie of the same name, Bring It On: The Musical premiered in Atlanta, Georgia in 2011 before an American tour and a season on Broadway where it earned Tony Award nominations for Best Musical and Best Choreography.
Stage Masters brings the Australian professional premiere to Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre. With a strong creative team behind the creation of this show – book by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), music by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), lyrics by Miranda and Amanda Green (High Fidelity) – this production lets the fierce energy erupt from the stage and infect the audience.
For fans of the film, be aware this show does not follow the same story. It is full of cheerleading, school rivalries and Queen Bees, romance stories and friendship. Campbell (Nadia Komazec) is finally having all her dreams come true, she’s cheer captain at Truman High, she’s a senior and she’s got the guy. Then one day she’s “redistricted” and sent to a new school – Jackson High – which *gasp* doesn’t have a cheer squad. She meets Danielle (Elandrah Feo), the head of Jackson’s dance crew, and does her best to find a way to continue being the cheerleader she’s always wanted to be.
Komazec has a huge role as Campbell. She’s on stage for the vast majority of the show and carries the storyline with prowess. “One Perfect Moment” is a tender point in which Komazec provides a really touching performance. Her triple-threat talents are on full display in this show as she nails every song, dance and acting moment. Feo brings another wonderful presence to this show as Danielle. Ever deliberate and passionate – as highlighted in “We Ain’t No Cheerleaders” – her character’s trust is constantly challenged and Feo lets this shine through in “We’re Not Done”. Although a relative newcomer to the stage, Feo seems incredibly comfortable and confident, full of the triple-threat talent needed for this show.
Body confidence number “It Ain’t No Thing” shared by Samantha Burzzese as Nautica and Marty Alix as La Cienega directed at Nicola Bowman’s Bridget is as uplifting as it is humorous. Bowman brings her immaculate stage presence to dorky but loveable Bridget and is a highlight in every scene she’s in. Bowman is one to watch, consistently nailing the roles she’s cast in. Burzzese’s smooth moves and flawlessly positive contribution is wonderful. Alix takes on the important role of La Cienega – the first transgender high school student written into a Broadway show – and quickly becomes a crowd favourite.
Karla Tonkich’s up-and-coming cheerleader and chief saboteur Eva is perfectly bitchy. Emily Thompson’s Skylar is sassy and hits all the notes of her stereotypical cheerleader character. Hollie James brings her brilliant comedic timing to Kylar and nails her twangy accent.
The leading men of this show are impressive. Thomas McGuane’s Randall is a sincere and wise-beyond-his-years presence, put on display with “Enjoy the Trip”. Ashley Roussety’s Cameron gets to shine during “Friday Night Jackson”, garnering significant praise from the audience. Tarik Frimpong as Twig is cheeky and makes the absolute most of every moment in the spotlight, creating an adorable partner to Bridget. Connor Sweeney’s smaller role as Steven has cute moments with “Happy Kitties” and Sweeney did a great job at pre-show hype.
“Friday Night Jackson” needs to be mentioned as a spectacular scene and a real highlight, especially comically. The big cheer numbers are truly outstanding.
Michael Ralph as choreographer combined with Natalie Commons as cheerleading coach creates some truly impressive choreography, movement and stunts on stage. It’s exhilarating to see cheerleading incorporated into a musical theatre show, allowing the physical talents of the cast to be a huge draw for the show.
Driving the show is the fantastic music played live by a terrifically skilled band, led by Daniele Buatti. While it is obviously important during structured songs, this live music helps add atmosphere and set the scene all throughout the piece. The stylised and appropriate costumes contributed as much to set as they did to character, with minimal set pieces allowing for full use of the stage.
The sound and lighting were, unfortunately, the biggest issues on opening night. Some actors weren’t lit enough or were in noticeably wobbly spotlights. At other points, some mic cues were missed and audio cut short. These are aspects that will be ironed out through the season as it becomes a well-oiled machine.
Somehow, after only three week’s rehearsing, a vibrant and highly energetic show with incredible cheer stunts has been pulled together by this wonderful cast and crew. It’s a testament to all involved and the show will go from strength to strength during its run.
Based on the young and enthusiastic crowd on opening night, Bring It On: The Musical has a much broader appeal than its typical musical theatre counterparts. This show doesn’t faff about with musical theatre intricacies and nuance. Instead, it’s a highly entertaining show for all to enjoy, with some of the most accessible music to be heard in a musical. Bring It On: The Musical is a dazzling spectacular, sure to please anyone who sees it, with something for everyone.
Photos by Nico Photography