As the sport of cheerleading has evolved, it has gained respect for the sheer athleticism involved in performing complicated routines. The Cultural Art Playhouse’s latest production of “Bring it On!” is living proof of this. The cast is filled with quadruple threats who not only belt out musical numbers, act both dramatic and comedic scenes, and perform a variety of dance styles, but also fly through the air executing impressive cheer stunts.
Director and co-choreographer Ryan Lane utilized both his background in college cheerleading and expertise as an established choreographer in the Long Island theatre community to put together a grand spectacle of a show. The dedicated cast attended their own version of cheer camp to prepare for the production and their hard work pays off on stage.
Fans of the highly quotable 2000 film starring Kirsten Dunst should note that the musical is not a direct adaptation like recent stage productions of “Heathers” and “Mean Girls.” You won’t see Big Red, stolen cheers, or “spirit fingers.” However, the musical stands on its own well enough with more timely plot points and characters.
In this “Bring it On!,” senior Campbell Davis – portrayed by the talented Courtney O’Shea, and Danielle Ducey on alternate shows – starts off her senior year named captain of her cheer squad at Truman High School. Always by her side are quintessential popular and low-key mean girl Skylar and her ditzy sidekick Kylar, played by Sydnee LaBuda (and Ashley Lane on alternate shows) and Danielle Jenkin respectively. Both actresses sink their teeth into the highly physical roles and impress with comedic prowess.
Tryouts ensue with the rejection of the nerdy, but highly enthusiastic Bridget – played by scene stealer Chrissy Ganci, with Noelle Eichenlaub in the role on alternate performances – and the acceptance of Campbell’s sophomore neighbor Eva (Erin Haggerty), who sees Campbell as her greatest role model. For the sake of a spoiler free review I’ll refrain from delving too much into Eva’s storyline, but Ms. Haggerty proves herself as both a talented actress and a dynamite dancer and cheerleader.
The true plot evolves as Campbell’s world is shaken when she finds out she won’t be returning to Truman High due to redistricting – thus stripping her of her title as captain. Instead she must attend the inner-city Jackson High School, which she is horrified to discover doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad.
Most of the action plays out at Jackson, where the displaced cheerleader makes it her goal to somehow assemble a squad. Instead of cheerleading, Jackson prides itself in its dance crew led by the brilliant Steffy Jollin as Danielle and supported by her best friends Nautica (the hilariously endearing Janet Sarmas on opening night with alternate performances by Gabby Preston) and La Cienega (the stellar Ruben Fernandez with alternate performances by Evan Torres).
Unlike the conformist tendencies of the Truman cheerleading squad, Jackson’s crew is characterized by its more accepting nature. The formerly rejected Bridget is given a place on the dance crew and both her eccentric personality and curves are celebrated. Although Campbell insults Danielle and her friends with a racial faux pas – more out of ignorance than malice – she also eventually finds acceptance on the crew and convinces them to form a squad to go up against Truman’s, which is now headed by a newly blonde and eerily Campbell inspired Eva after a series of blunders in succession.
Jared Grossman, a prolific presence on the CAP stage, is also a member of Campbell’s new group of allies at Jackson as Randall, a Dead Head with a heart of gold and eventual love interest. The character is not unlike similar love interests in contemporary musical theatre, but Mr. Grossman is very well suited for the role and is able to bring a very organic feel to the blossoming romance.
This production, however, would not be possible without the strength of its ensemble. From high energy production numbers to filling the stage with the life of a high school, this group is the show’s most valuable asset.
CAP also continues to set the bar high with innovative stagecraft. Echoing trends from Broadway, projections are utilized to display everything from social media feeds to FaceTime calls. The colorful and kinetic lighting also contributes greatly to the relenting energy of this production.
Whether you love the original film and its many sequels or you’re just seeking a fun night at the theatre, “Bring it On!” delivers with memorable dance and cheer sequences that will have you rooting for Jackson High to the end.
“Bring it On!” runs July 27 to August 25 with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinee performances at 3 p.m. Cultural Arts Playhouse is located at 170 Michael Drive Syosset, N.Y, 11791.
Visit culturalartsplayhouse.com for tickets and additional information.
All photos courtesy of Diane Marmann.