REVIEW: Two high schools face off for nationals in “Bring It On: The Musical,” unleashing songs — and plenty of pep — along the way.
If you hanker for social commentary and deep meaning in your entertainment, you will find a sparse sprinkling of both in “Bring It On: The Musical,” the carbonated show at Ordway Center in St. Paul.
The teenage musical is ultimately about inclusion and finding one’s place in the world, especially in the hyperbolic milieu of competitive cheerleading (a new setting for an old story).
But trying to glean anything resonant from this show is a fool’s errand. The main point of “Bring It On” is fun — the zestier and fluffier the better. The whiz-bang production, based on the 2000 film and featuring high-energy direction and choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler, is replete with high-flying acrobatic stunts.
It has a few songs with genuine feeling, even if the compositions by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights) and Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) are not particularly memorable.
“Bring It On” centers on Campbell (Nadia Vynnytsky), the new captain of the cheer squad of lily-white Truman High School, where there’s big pressure on girls to be fit and blonde. Campbell kind of fits the bill, except that she has competition from an unlikely source: an adoring younger neighbor Eva (Emily Mitchell) whose mother happens to be on the school board.
Suddenly, Campbell gets a letter that the school district lines have been redrawn and she has to go to a new institution while Eva remains at Truman, where her stock rises.
Jackson High, Campbell’s destination, is a more urban, hip-hop-inflected school that requires students to use a metal detector to enter. It also is more accepting of different cultures, hues and body types. Campbell at first finds herself an outsider at Jackson, but quickly joins up with Danielle (Zuri Washington), who leads a dance crew. Eventually, they compete with Truman at nationals.
The acting company of “Bring It On” works tirelessly in this show, with some of the leads showing good moves and strong voices. Charismatic Vynnytsky is commendable in the lead, and draws attention even when the spotlight is not on her. Ditto Washington, whose role is underwritten.
In fact, the main reservation I have is that these characters are not particularly well-developed. They are just sketches in a show that should be stronger, given that its book was written by Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”).
Instead, “Bring It On” often uses stereotypes as crutches, whether of the dumb-blonde or ethnic urban variety.
Still, the shallowness is of a piece. It keeps the emphasis of the show not on the characters, per se, but on the lightness and good cheer around what they do.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390