Theater Review: Three cheers for ‘Bring It On’ at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre
The Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre (MSMT) production of “Bring It On” lives up to its title.
The adage about an actor being a triple-threat (acting, singing, dancing) in theater is taken one step further to become a quadruple-threat with the addition of cheerleading (including backflips, front-flips, lifts and drops that one would see at high school and college sports contests) in “Bring It On,” through June 30, Paul C. Empie Theatre, Dexter F. & Dorothy H. Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, Allentown. The June 15 performance was seen for this review.
Ashley Hiester in the lead role of Campbell is especially a quadruple threat in “Bring It Out,” singing lead vocals while, on ocassion, being held aloft, suspended or standing on the shoulders of her fellow yell-leaders.
“Rah-rah-rah, sis-boom-bah” (the cheerleading chant dates to 1867) is the throughline. Director Jim Peck infuses the musical with a winning enthusiasm. By the end of Act One, the concluding “Bring It On” production number brings the theater-goer in, too.
The storyline pits Campbell, who is transferred from Truman High School to rival Jackson High School, against Danielle (Gabrielle Hines, also credited as “Cheerographer” as choreographer of the cheerleading routines), leader of the “crew” at Jackson. Choreographer Samuel Antonio Reyes keeps the large cast of 12 and ensemble of 15 dancing, leaping and strutting almost nonstop.
The plot revolves around Campbell and Danielle resolving their differences. Each learns that winning isn’t all, unlike Eva (Ellie Swartz), for whom winning is all. In a funny bit of stagecraft, Eva becomes evil personified. Credit Sound Designer ian Scot, Lighting Designer Gertjan Houben and Swartz for the transformation. Houben’s design for the national cheerleading contest scenes is tremendous.
The leads have a number of standout songs, including the lovely “One Perfect Moment” by Hiester, “We Ain’t No Cheerleaders” by Hines, who can really belt it out; Asia DeShields (Nautica), Connor Harrison (La Cienega) and the Company.
Act Two has even more upbeat numbers, including “It’s All Happening” by Hines, DeShields, Harrison, Zaire Carter (Twig), Ricardo Negron (Cameron), Hiester and the Company, “It Ain’t No Thing” by DeShields, Harrison, Rachel Horun (Bridget) and the Company, “Killer Instinct” by Swartz and the Company, “We’re Not Done” by Hines and the Company, “Eva’s Rant” by Swartz, and the concluding “I Got You” by the Company.
Hiester is endearingly tentative in portraying Campbell. Hines makes a terrific impression as Danielle. Horun is appropriately bubbly as Bridget. Swartz is amazing as Eva. Carter is memorable as Twig. Harrison is a standout as La Cienega.
Also noteworthy: Sophie MacKay (Skylar), Brielle Leigh (Kylar) and Jesse Kinstler (Steven).
Conceptually, “Bring It On” is “Hairspray” meets “Carrie” meets “Fame.” It has the essence of teen-age angst. It’s the “West Side Story” of the football field and basketball court.
To good effect, scenic Designer John Raley utilizes bleacher seats, and moveable sets of gym lockers, flanked by four panel representations of lockers on each side of the stage, with an impressionistic floor of an athletic contest court. Symbolically, the stage is set for the cheerleading conflicts. Costume Designer Rebecca Lustig further conveys the competing forces with bold uniforms of red and green.
With Libretto by Jeff Whitty, Music by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Lyrics by Amanda Green and Miranda, the musical is based on the 2000 movie release, “Bring It On,” written by Jessica Bendinger. The show’s 21 songs have elements of synth-pop, reggae, hip-hop and rock.
Music Director Ed Bara conducts MSMT’s seven-piece music ensemble, which, owing to the score, has more of a contemporary rock sound than a pit-orchestra sound. Bara is great as the recorded voice of the cheerleading contest announcer.
Three cheers for MSMT’s “Bring It On.”
Tickets: Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre and Dance box office, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 W. Chew St., Allentown; muhlenberg.edu/theatre/SMT; 484-664-3333