The first (and perhaps the only) thing you need to know about Bring It On: The Musical is that cheerleaders are amazing people capable of inspiring young children and uniting disparate cliques of teenagers, and that even the goth kids secretly want to be cheerleaders. So yeah, this musical adaptation of the 2000 movie that starred Kirsten Dunst, playing at the Fox Theatre through April 8, is mostly horseshit and short skirts, plus some impressive acrobatics performed with occasional heart-in-throat derring-do. But man is it tedious watching a cheerleader fight for the respect she feels she deserves.
Campbell (Taylor Louderman) is Truman High's cheerleading-captain-with-a-heart-of-gold, a young woman as talented — at cheerleading — as she is empathetic; see her graciously reject the heavyset and enthusiastic Bridget (Ryann Redmond; remember the name, there will be much raving about her in a few paragraphs) when the latter fruitlessly tries out for the team for the fourth successive year. Skylar (Kate Rockwell) is Campbell's foil, an ultra-bitchy cheerdiva whose sole redeeming quality is her unrepentant vapidness. Together they're going to guide Truman High's cheer squad to glory at nationals, a feat that will surely alter the course of history and bring great joy to all Truman students, past, present and future.
All they need is one more cheerleader.
And who should show up but Eva (Elle McLemore), an eager acolyte who worships the ground Campbell herkies on. She'll do, and she does, and we're whisked off on a tuneful cloud of songs about cheerleading's power to inspire. We'd consider reeling off the titles, but the program doesn't list any, so to do so would probably be a buzzkill. Just think of blandly interchangeable hip-hop ditties about achieving, and being, and not dropping stuff.
But then Campbell's perfect life is undone by the vagaries of high school redistricting! Now she's a student at Jackson High, a mostly black school where the students dress like extras in a 40-year-old's idea of a music video. Campbell is way out of her league — OMG, would you believe Jackson doesn't even have a cheerleading squad?! All they have is a dance crew, and you better believe that doesn't square with Campbell's world-view. Now set up and knock down the predictable denouement for a while — Campbell proves her mettle, Campbell leverages her new classmates' respect to persuade them to try cheerleading, Jackson High achieves a moral victory and Campbell wins back her old life, somehow managing to survive the ten minutes of adolescent discomfort dealt to her by the cruel hand of fate. And who the fuck cares, right?
But wait! Remember Bridget-from-the-second-paragraph?
Bridget also gets trundled off to Jackson, but she achieves an actual character arc. Her weight is not a deterrent to the attentions of her new male classmates, her peers dig her funky fashion sense and her forthrightness and pluck serve her well. And yet....
And yet she remains uncomfortable in her own skin. Bridget's problem is one of self-esteem: Nobody sings songs about how great she is, because she's not a cheerleader. But then Bridget gets her song, courtesy of her new friend La Cienega (Gregory Haney), a flamboyant cross-dresser.
Redmond and Haney are this show's two true joys. She's a gifted comic actress with a huge singing voice. (It takes a special talent to make an audience laugh just by turning your head — while wearing a full-body parrot suit.) And he never plays La Cienega for cheap laughs. When Haney sings to a suddenly popular, plus-size white girl about being proud of all that you are, we have show worth seeing for however long that (unnamed) song lasts.
At show's end on opening night, the audience saved its loudest cheer for Redmond, so much so that she looked startled by the spontaneous fervor. Though perhaps it wasn't surprise that overcame her, but gratification. Every high school gets its requisite allotment of the inexplicably popular and eminently forgettable. They're far outnumbered by Bridgets, though, of all shapes, sizes, skin colors and sexes. And while we might not always want to admit it, we're fully capable of recognizing our own. Even when they're stuck in the shadows. As long as someone's around to cheer us on.