How a cheerleading musical teaches a lesson in cool. A sort-of review of Bring It On: The Musical.
Two years before hip-hop hits mainstream (another ten before it takes over), I pop a tape into the deck when I hear an American accent borrow an Australian frequency. I hit record.
At school the next day, my best friend, Cherylle, and I hide headphones in our hair and listen. Her sister is dating a DJ so Cherylle’s heard all the songs before. I listen to the tape compulsively for a week.
Raised on a diet of borrowed country music, The Carpenters and a hint of Blondie, it took several takes for me to figure out my taste in music. It was not hip-hop but for a while there I could speak the language (with an accent) and bought the pants (two sizes too big). My mother, it goes without saying, prefers me dressed Folk.
So when Lin-Manuel Miranda (Bring It On’s co-composer, co-lyricist and a Pulitzer Prize finalist) goes all hip-hop, I feel I have the credentials to bop my head.
Musicals, for this Sydney-sider, are reified things, tickets to which are bought for mothers at Christmas – mothers who would not ‘get’ hip-hop.
But Bring It On: The Musical is entirely adult-free. There is no parent, no teacher and the possibility that a good many of the performers will be toasting their success with soda.
And yet, this is not a cool musical (assuming of course there are cool musicals).
Inspired by the movie of the same name (the name, the blonde and the cheerleading are pretty much all that survives the journey from screen to stage), Bring It On: The Musical is junk food for the soul.
The Bring It On franchise is a guilty pleasure. One I hide in a drawer next to my embarrassingly predictable Jane Austen (it’s the irony I love, I’ve said, not Colin Firth). And it was one line from that first movie (the one that wasn’t straight to video) that ensured my seat in San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater, counting down the beginning of the show.
“Cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded.”
The first scene opens very blonde and a little too Glee for my indulgent boyfriend (looking around, I see a lot of indulgent boyfriends in the audience; this is, I assume, akin to holding back our hair when we vomit).
The show is staged and saccharine, but takes seriously the fact that it never takes itself seriously. I’m hooked, not when the ‘professional’ cheerleaders are thrown into the air, but when the Head Blonde gets redistricted to a scary inner-city school (read: black).
The story doesn’t get any better here, but the music gets more Pixar than Disney and the characters get interesting (read: not blonde).
Of course, it all ends in social harmony and bestows self-help nuggets like: ‘Do your own thing’, a high school version of ‘this too shall pass’, and the now de rigueur acceptance of the chubby, transgendered etcetera.
But this is a generous San Francisco and the energetic audience shouts out Jerry Springerisms and cheer Gregory Haney’s high school drag queen more than the Broadway-acceptable leads.
I’m standing with them as the curtain closes and, in the words of the chubby Bridget, “slam the door and let the screen hit me in the ass” if I don’t love it. Because it doesn’t matter how your playlist reads, or what books are on your shelf. A life lived cool is occasionally interspersed with junk food.
Co-ordinates: 37°46′45.48″N, 122°25′9.12″W
Image courtesy of Duke University Archives.
Author: Gaya Avery