Bring It On! – Pleasance Theatre

Music by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lyrics by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Directed by Amy Stinton

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Taking the foundations from the 2000 cultural zeitgeist which was Kirsten Dunst defining role, the 2011 musical incarnation of the cheerleading comedy hi-jinks drama Bring It On! elevates the more simplistic narrative of rival cheerleader squads and develops it into a more touching tale of self-discovery, acknowledgement of privilege and mistakes, and remaining true to genuine friendships.

Cheerleading still has a tremendously important place within the production, particularly its high-energy second act, but the principal narrative follows two schools, two rival dance groups, and enough hormonal showboating to fill a therapist’s diary for years. The bones of it all follow Campbell, newly elected captain of Truman’s cheerleading squad, only to have this wrenched from her as the district lines of the town receive new boundaries, shunting her to a different school where dance exists in the hip-hop variety, championed by Danielle. But in the ashes of Truman’s old group a new leader rises.

Earnest, genuine, and infusing a wealth of sentiment in their performance and physical expression, Lucy McClure is an ideal Campbell: able to rally the ensemble pieces while focusing their performance on the more intimate moments with her co-stars, leading to touching renditions of One Perfect Moment and What Was I Thinking. It elevates the production and skirts it away from the teen angst into a more rounded and developed show, but don’t fret – there’s more than enough absurd humour and flashy, gooey romances to take your pick.

From initial sidekick to the main stage, Gemima Iseka-Bekano’s Brigette develops into an all-around more engaging character thanks to a tremendously vulnerable and nevertheless hilarious role. From hiding in invisible books to finding an inner blaze of self-confidence during It Ain’t No Thing, Iseka-Bekano rightly gets the applause they deserve. But someone not lacking in confidence is Giulia Pesciarelli’s dedicated Skylar, perhaps the most likeable bitch the stage has ever graced us. Though persistent and occasionally sharp, Pesciarelli brings pleasure and relish to the role that it’s easy to move past the jabs from the pushy top-of-the-food-chain cheerleader.

Equally as status-obsessed, Campbell’s neighbour Eva seems like a swell gal, right? But don’t let the sweetness and the giddy skips of Maria McStay’s performance fool you. Devouring the part of the sinister power-hungry teen, McStay’s solo numbers late into the show are crowd favourites for the embracement of the ridiculous, backed up superbly by Kirsten Matthews’ Kylar. Giddy, bouncing, and more in-tune with what’s popular than we ever will be, Keiko Tani’s Nautica and Brandon Yim’s La Cienega make the perfect break away from the love triangles, in-fighting and high lifts and flips.

Chris Kane’s Randall has the pipes to back their performance as we get introduced to the Jackson lot, capturing the nineties idea of cool, composed, and calm. But when turning to the Jackson High cast – the simple fact is that vocally and in their presence, Mokkie Tebeila (and Kane) is fully qualified in carrying their notes to a Westend level. Like McClure, they comprehend the emotions of the script, salvaging the production’s less-than-stellar lyrics (a surprising fault from the legendary Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green). Tebeila is a gift for the stage, grasping the joy in cliché but evolving into something more mature and appreciative for audiences: whopping well done.

It’s a testament to Amy Stinton’s understanding of their cast and story pacing but additionally the Pleasance’s limited stage size. Stinton works with Emily Bealer and Rose Roberts’ stellar choreography to infuse an intensely dynamic sense of energy which bubbles over in the theatrical ensemble pieces. The entire company do a spectacularly engaging job of holding attention and offering a slice of exuberance which each musical number, Bealer and Roberts ensure the Cheerleading national scenes offer an impressive sense of scale and lift, even when constricted by the stage size (and likely some Health & Safety regulators…).

The superb quality and control of the music is undoubtedly an undisputed highlight and principal strength of the EU Footlight’s production – musical director Eric Rogers’ minimal but composed and well-structured band places enough gusto into the ensemble pieces that the entire show bursts into life, the composition standards maintained at the highest levels. From percussive to strings, Roger’s graceful manipulation and command of the music carries through the production, setting the score at a professional level, carrying passion as well as a tune.

Staging for the show works exceptionally well with Olivia Pierce’s set design, which is simple, but always maintains that gym-hall aesthetic of the American bleachers and soft-wood floors. Jacob Henney’s lighting is effective in its colour palette, shifting from intense battle-ready crimsons to more light-hearted fuchsias and wash-out blues. The danger comes in occasionally plunging the stage in a touch of darkness, but it’s usually counteracted by the brightness and solidness of Ellie Andeson’s costumes which often match the touring productions’ standards.

Bloody brilliant. That’s what this is. This an example of the determination and commitment to performance that EU Footlights has showcased since 1989 and looks to have no signs of slowing. Bring It On!, with its high-octane of energy, benefits tremendously from a coherent cast of principals who switch between the comedic and heartfelt with grace and ease, carrying superb notes and inserting their character into every movement and number. Promising to bring it, Edinburgh University Footlights brought it, served it, and left the audience ravenous for more. 

Bloody Brilliant

Bring It On! runs at the Pleasance Theatre, the show runs for two hours and thirty minutes, including one interval. Tuesday – Saturday at 19.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 14.30pm.

Tickets for the show begin from £8.00, and may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Lou Collins and Andrew Perry


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