Hollywood has been harangued for years for its lack of ideas -- particularly its recycling of old TV shows to make new movies. That high-culture High Street called Broadway was supposed to be above that and, uh, only recycle old theatre.
But somehow it became a bastion of screen-to-stage adaptations like The Producers, Hairspray and Footloose (which then, like an MC Escher illustration, can get turned back into movies). Now we are so deep into this phenomenon that cinematic fluff like Ghost, Flashdance, Legally Blonde and Bring It On can be turned into big-budget musicals.
Bring It On: The Musical hasn't actually hit the Great White Way yet, having kicked off in Atlanta before hitting the road -- it's currently enjoying a five-week run at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto -- but proves preemptive naysayers wrong by being, like, totally awesome.
I'm actually a fan of the original film, which, against all odds, was relatively substantial and perfectly light on its feet. Still, it seemed a stretch to turn into a musical.
Or it would if I hadn't seen Point Break Live, an off-off-Broadway marvel that took the Keanu Reeves' beloved B-movie and treated it with equal parts reverence and ridiculousness. The crux was that Keanu was barely acting so each night they cast the play's lead Johnny Utah from someone in the crowd, who read off cue cards. The Lori Petty character was played by a kid and the audience got pretend money for the bank robbery scenes and ponchos for the surfing scenes to prevent getting soaked. But there was a shared loved of the not-classic source material from both the crowd and the cast.
There is infinitely less irony in Bring It On, but the adaptation boasts a similarly sincere appreciation of the source. It also achieves its success by not recreating the screenplay. Instead, it's like a spiritual sequel (as opposed to those dreadful DVD sequels) that takes the original film's essence and uses it to tell a new story that also balances racial, social and class politics with short skirts, high flips and big laughs. In short, an All About Eve-esque scheme by a classmate finds cheer captain Campbell (Taylor Louderman) redistricted to a poor school that doesn't even, gasp, have a cheer squad, though it does boast a female hip-hop dance crew led by the magnetic Danielle (Adrienne Warren).
Oh, and the other reason why it succeeds so well is that the producers hired Avenue Q's Jeff Whitty to write the new script and especially Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning wunderkind behind Broadway hip-hop hit In the Heights as well as the awesome Electric Company revival, to give the musical an unexpectedly authentic hip-hop flair once the setting moves from a richie-rich high-school to an inner-city one.
Unlike most musicals, the cheerleading setting gives all this silly singing and dancing a reason to exist, and the expert routines are quite electrifying with their back handsprings, human pyramids and airborne ladies. Most of the heavy lifting and flipping is done by actual competitive cheerleaders and In The Heights choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler adds almost-as-exhilarating street dance numbers. (The songs aren't as memorable as the choreography, especially the poppier rich school numbers, but the R&B jams hit their mark and the rap interludes are dynamite.)
The morale of Bring It On: The Musical, like many teen-genre tales, is about not judging a book by its cover. But that lesson can be parlayed to the production itself. It's easy (and often correct) to criticize pop culture's propensity for cannibalization -- but to borrow the show's own parlance, it's not about where you got the routine, it's how you execute it.