I went to see Bring It On: The Musical. Like, in a theater. Here’s what you’ll see if you go.
“Is this going to be one of those things where you write that I dragged you even though you wanted to go more than I did?”
— My girlfriend, 11/12/2011
Over the weekend, yes, I went to the “legitimate” theater (in that it was a theater) and saw Bring It On: The Musical.
I haven’t made it a secret over the years — I am a big fan of the original Bring It On movie. Even though I’m not really into the nuances of cheerleading, nor did I ever cheerlead myself, I always felt Bring It On transcended its potentially-limiting gimmick. (Kind of like how I now feel about The League or The Colbert Report. Or how I hope you feel about this website.)
And that’s how I ended up with a group of four friends, all ages 29 to 32, in downtown L.A. to watch Bring It On: The Musical. Rather than do a straight-up review, I decided to structure this around what YOU will see if you go (the L.A. shows are the first stage of a national tour). Because I was fairly unprepared, and I think it messed with my expectations and experience.
1 | The plot has virtually nothing to do with Bring It On: The Movie
I was expecting a 1:1 version of the movie. Big Red, stolen cheers, spirit fingers, Eliza Dushku character, cheating boyfriend, W-W-W-Whitney, all that.
That was not the case. I spent the first 10 minutes or so trying to figure out which characters in the play aligned to which characters in the film (the characters all having different names should’ve been a clue it wasn’t going to line up). And that kind of put a damper on things. Had I known I was seeing something entirely different, I would’ve mentally prepared entirely different. As it stood, all I could do was compare the play and the movie in real-time.
2 | But the black characters still exist to help the white characters find themselves
That element is still alive and well, even more so than in the movie. The black characters’ arcs only occur in the context of helping the lead white girl (and the second-lead, an overweight white girl) grow and change and become better people. (Recommended reading: This article on the concept of the “magical Negro” which will make you realize just how pervasive this can be.)
3 | The signature moments are all gone
Do not expect the opening cheer routine. Do not expect the tooth brushing scene. Do not expect a bikini car wash. And finally, do not expect even a mention of how cold it is in here or what animals/plants must be in the atmosphere.
4 | The audience is not entirely 13-year-old girls
In fact, I’d guess the audience was only about 55:45 female-male… with a median age somewhere around 28. In my section (the super nose-bleeds… we weren’t going to pay more than $30 per ticket — even millionaires can’t justify $125 orchestra seats to this one, right?) the only person to give a standing ovation at the end was a middle-age man who did not appear to have his teenage child with him.
5 | There are a few laugh-out-loud funny parts
The show is very campy, as it has to be. To its credit, it knows what it is — so it adeptly breaks the fourth wall and, in one particularly strange scene involving a dancing leprechaun (?), aggressively revels in its own absurdity. Not all the jokes are great — there are some token pop culture references that obviously miss, as most pop culture references do — but it’s a viable comedy at its core.
6 | There are also some cringeworthy parts
The play uses the phrase “douchnozzle” non-ironically. There’s also a non-ironic reference to “blowing chunks.” It takes a surprising flippant attitude toward girls not eating and weight-related self-esteem issues — especially considering the show’s target demographic. They also have the main character struggle pronouncing the word “redistricting,” apparently in an effort to reinforce a cheerleaders-are-dumb stereotype that doesn’t make any real appearance anywhere else. And, like all musicals, at least three of the girls in the show deliver every one of their lines like they’re auditioning for a Judy Garland biopic. So be ready for on-and-off cringing.
7 | It’s raunchier than you think (aka, I hope your 10-year-old doesn’t know slang terms for the vagina)
My thought was that it would not be raunchy at all. But there are quite a few little sex jokes thrown in. I’d say it’s fairly similar, raunch-wise, to the original movie. Although one girl in this one does call another a “twat.” In her defense, it’s in song, and she needed something to rhyme with “hot.”
8 | It’s full of plot twists, especially in the first act
I don’t know if it’s embarrassing to say, but I didn’t fully see where the play was going until a good portion of the way through act one. It’s like the Wild Things of musicals based on movies based on pseudo-sports.
(Please don’t write in and complain that I just called it a pseudo-sport. I respect what cheerleaders do and the athleticism involved, I just like fighting over the definition of what is and isn’t a sport.)
9 | The music is extremely forgettable
I don’t listen to original cast recordings (or even alternative cast recordings) of musicals, but I do have a propensity for songs sticking in my head. I can’t remember a single note or lyric other than the aforementioned “twat” line. Not a good sign for the music. (Another bad sign: The concession stand was selling t-shirts, shorts, pom poms… but no soundtracks. Also, $10-a-glass wine. Come on. No one here is that classy.)
10 | The cheerleading stunts are quite good
The entire ensemble of the show has to be former cheerleaders (and/or athletes), because the stunts throughout the show are extremely impressive. I can only remember one even minor fumble on one of probably 100 lifts. That’s a better track record than the lifts I saw at a French-Canadian circus show in Vegas. The athleticism and physicality was far more extensive than I’d anticipated — and they can’t use stunt doubles like a movie. Very, very impressive.
11 | It’s like a musical version of one of the direct-to-DVD Bring It Ons
Now, to wrap up. I doubt I would’ve gone to see this play if I’d known it wasn’t the same plot as the movie Bring It On. Because I’m not really into the “cheerleader with a shot of racial tension” genre. I’m into Bring It On, specifically, because it’s funny and well done and the characters are good and it makes everyone of both genders want to have sex with Eliza Dushku.
So in a way, this play is like an extension of the four subsequent straight-to-DVDquel Bring It On movies of past decade: Bring It On Again, Bring It On: All or Nothing, Bring It On: In It to Win It, and Bring It On: Fight to the Finish. They’re part of the Bring It On brand in that they’re about cheerleading and the racial harmony it can sometimes engender — but they’re not Bring It On.
And maybe they shouldn’t be.
This play is Bring It On in a post-High School Musical world. The dark elements and semi-evolved characterization attempts have been primarily stripped out, sugar’s been dumped on top, and you’re left with a cheerleading spectacle that somehow even manages to shoehorn in a “you’re wonderful so be happy with who you are” message.
Is that what I was expecting? No, though I should’ve been. Did I ultimately mind? Not really. The play is simultaneously uneven and entertaining enough that you can enjoy it both sincerely and ironically. The production is creative, they nailed the casting, the songs enhance the show even though they don’t leave you singing, and the experience was indisputably positive.
To wrap up, you won’t leave saying “What a gigantic waste of time and money.” But you also won’t leave saying “Do I smell Tony!?” unless you happen to have seen the play with your friend Tony and he didn’t wear deodorant.
(See. I ALSO like to be campy and cringeworthy sometimes.)