‘Bring It On’ was spirited.
Prima’s second production for 2021 was the highly energetic ‘Bring It On’. Held in the beautiful QUT Gardens Theatre, audiences were treated to a dynamic group of talented and athletic performers showing off their skills.
‘Bring It On’ is a Tony-nominated musical based on the movie of the same name. Created by some of Broadway’s finest, such as Tom Kitt, Jeff Whitty and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show centres around cheerleader Campbell and her struggles when she is moved to a new school with no friends and no cheer squad. Eventually, she befriends the leader of the dance crew and forms a new cheer team with spirit and talent to rival the squad she left behind.
The major themes of the show centre around issues of race, diversity and prejudgement. Unfortunately, the casting did not reflect the necessary ethnic diversity. Without this, the storyline fell flat and the important lessons the show has to offer – that different does not mean bad and no one should be judged by the colour of their skin – could not effectively be portrayed. It may be advisable for theatre companies to consider carefully the shows they choose to stage and whether they can cast them accurately. In addition, the role of La Cienega is traditionally played by a transgender woman. Prima’s decision to cast a white cis female in this role was disappointing.
Lighting design by Chris Walker was complex and dynamic. The use of a variety of lighting techniques kept the audience engaged. The choice to have lights shining towards the audience as well as on the performers contributed to the feeling of being in a cheerleading arena. However, at times the spotlights would hit audience members in the eyes, obscuring the action on stage. The use of a tight spotlight for some of the solo numbers, such as ‘One Perfect Moment’ focused all attention on the performer, making the intimate moment when Campbell reveals her inner hopes and desires a perfect opportunity for her to connect fully with the audience.
The live band, led by musical director Wendy Bird, did not miss a beat. Their flawless accompaniment of the action on stage showed off their talent and experience. However, at times their talent seemed underutilised. Between scene changes and at the end of Act One, it would have been wonderful for the band to continue underscoring, instead of having silence. This would have allowed audiences to appreciate the band in their own right and give them a moment to shine.
The set design by Walker was incredibly minimal: a stage with a white outline and black theatre curtains. When the full cheer squad was on stage, the set worked, blending seamlessly into the background. However, when only a few cast members were on stage, the minimal set pieces and props lowered from the roof did little to fill the large area or orient the scenes.
Costume design by Sarah Crepin was fabulous. The Truman cheer squad dazzled in their perfectly tailored cheerleading outfits and juxtaposed with the casual and messy fashion sense of the Jackson High School crew. Without careful consideration of costuming to ensure the students from each school looked different from one another, it would have been difficult to differentiate who was who. In this respect, Crepin did a wonderful job of mending some of the issues that arose in casting and ensuring the audience was able to see that the two schools were very different. Special mention must be made to the dazzling black two-piece Campbell wore on her date which was absolutely stunning under the lights and fit Aleisha Rose like a glove.
Director Kade O’Rourke managed to handle a large cast with ease, most of whom were on stage at the same time. The stage never seemed overcrowded and blocking choices in the large routines were well planned and executed. Times where there were only a few performers on stage, O’Rourke utilised the space well and important action was centred at the front of the stage. The only directorial negative was O’Rourke’s decision to dress the ensemble as religious figures portraying demonic symbols for the song ‘Killer Instinct’. This was confusing, not necessary to the plot of the show, and could be construed as insensitive and offensive.
Choreography by Shelley Marshall, supported by Rhiannon Brown as Assistant Choreographer and Victoria Sica as Cheer Squad, was phenomenal. Their adaptability from cheer routines to krumping hip-hop displayed their talent and ability. It was clear how dedicated the choreographers and performers were in learning their steps. The cast members were confident in their moves and all tricks and stunts were executed professionally. Dynamic use of levels and space ensured all could be seen.
Rose shone in the role of Campbell. Her sheltered innocence and sweet nature made her instantly likeable. A wonderful dancer, cheerleader and singer, Rose carried the weight of the show on her shoulders and handled it like a pro.
Manuao Madar stepped into the role of Danielle recently, after the initial show was postponed due to COVID-19. Audience would never have known she had a fraction of the time to learn the role as the rest of the cast. Her sassy portrayal of the leader of the Jackson Crew, laid back hip-hop style and sublime voice were a joy to watch.
Josie Ross was the hidden gem of the show. Her comic timing was impeccable, and she entertained audiences with her portrayal of optimistic wallflower Bridget. Though she did not sing much, when she shredded that powerful riff, the audience went wild.
Lauren Bensted was a controversial choice for the role of La Cienega, however, she did not disappoint. Throwing shade and sass every second she could, Bensted embodied the role fully. Though it was clear from the key of her songs that the role was written for someone with a different voice type, Bensted took it in her stride and made La Cienega her own.
The rest of the cast must be applauded. ‘Bring It On’ is an intense show full of energy, spirit and determination. COVID-19 may have let them down the first time but it was clear the cast could not be beaten. It was evident every one of the performers on that stage were having a blast and that was the most enjoyable thing to watch.
‘Bring It On’ ran at QUT Gardens Theatre until 24 October 2021 for more information about upcoming productions visit Prima’s website.
Photos by FotoImagery.
*This review has been edited to correct gender identifying language.