Seven years after its 2011 Atlanta premiere, Bring It On: The Musical uses the wonderfully ridiculous world of competitive cheerleading to tell a fun story that, in this Southwark Playhouse production, lacks spark.
Although inspired by the 2000 American teen comedy box-office hit of the same name about two rival cheerleading squads, the show actually takes its plot more from the second of Bring It On’s straight-to-DVD, less popular sequels — and it shows, with a formulaic plot and cookie-cutter archetype characters.
We see cheerleading captain Campbell lose everything after she moves to a tough inner-city school from picture-perfect Truman High. She loses and finds friends (and love), builds a new cheer squad, falls from grace, and eventual redeems herself as she realises her friends are more important than winning or taking revenge.
Fans of the musical’s inspiration will remember the film as a surprisingly layered exploration of race, class and young female relationships that was also very funny. Unfortunately a lot of that nuance is lost here, with Robyn McIntyre’s Campbell not quite having the charm to make us root for her.
A lot of the jokes about Campbell’s whiteness also fall flat – it’s hard to see her as a fish out of water in a tough black inner-city school when the ensemble around her is mostly white. The music and lyrics vary wildly – there are standout, rap-inspired tracks as well as fairly forgettable beginning and end sections.
The set design is also uninspired, with the vast portrait of a teenage girl a distracting and disjointed backdrop image. However, Ewan Jones’ direction often works well, and Ben Jacobs’ lighting does a lot to help bounce between a large number of locations.
Overall, though, the show belongs to its ensemble cast, particularly Kristine Kruse, Chisara Agor, Mary Celeste and a brilliantly funny Isabella Pappas. They, along with the standout song numbers, bring the show to life.