‘Bring It On: The Musical’ at The Music Center at Strathmore

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Elphaba, step aside! The high-flying cast of the Tony-award nominated best musical Bring It On: The Musical is defying gravity and launching itself to new heights—literally—and there’s not a single broomstick in sight.

With an original story by Tony Award winner Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), Bring It On: The Musical features the same lovable and enchanting characters as the feature film by the same name, focusing on Campbell—a young cheerleader eager to lead her cheer squad to Nationals—and the challenges she faces and the lessons she learns while pursuing stardom and brilliance. Featuring the universal themes of fierce loyalty, betrayal, friendship, competition, ambition, and personal identity, the show has something for everyone—which made manifest in the diverse audience sitting around me, ranging from toddler to grandmother, who all shared an exciting afternoon of cheering, giggling, and thunderous applause.

The cast of the national tour of “Bring It On: The Musical. Photo by Craig Schwartz.
The cast of the national tour of “Bring It On: The Musical. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

With music and lyrics by Tony Award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), music by Pulitzer and Tony Award- winning composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), lyrics by Broadway lyricist Amanda Green (High Fidelity) and music supervision by Tony and Grammy Award winner Alex Lacamoire (In The Heights), the performance features a swooping range of styles, including hip-hop, rap, pop, power ballads, and a couple classic Broadway-pop showtunes here and there.

The show seamless blends these vocal styles, using the backdrop of a high school with a privileged, predominately white, and affluent student base and another high school with a more rugged, working class student base as backdrops for these varied musical styles. The result is a rich, textured musical experience that blends these styles effortlessly.

The choreography is second-to-none. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights), it’s no surprise that the show received a Tony-award nomination for best choreography. This is some of the most precise and cleanest choreography I have ever seen on Broadway or on a national touring stage. The tosses and throws seem effortless, yet are gasp-inducing; with girls being thrown several stories high into the air, it’s a visual and acrobatic feast. Moreover, the precision of the grounded choreography matches the precision and exuberance of the aerial feats, which creates a blend of cheerleading and contemporary/hip-hop dance that is unique and appealing.

The cast can only be described as a veritable ensemble of triple threats.

Nadia Vynnytsky leads the cast as the ambitious Campbell alongside her counterpart at a rival high school Danielle, played by the incredible Zuri Washington. These two leading ladies dominate the stage, and their vocal and physical stamina is commendable. There aren’t many who can do a couple backflips, “crunk” for a few bars, and then belt an 11 o’clock number, but Vynnytsy and Washington manage to do this with ease. The ballad that the two sing to one another—entitled “We’re Not Done”—was a highlight of the performance for me, highlighting that these two rising stars are not only excellent dancers and have amazing stage presence, but also have the vocal chops to carry a Tony-award nominated show.

Other highlights of the evening include Tyler Bertolone as Randall, Campbell’s love interest at her rival high school. Bertolone certainly carries the emotional, romantic arc of the show, playing a sincere and lovable boy-next door, who befriends Campbell and encourages her to pursue her dreams and passions. Recounting the story of how he transitioned from a freshman dork to the self-assured individual that he has become, his performance of the ballad “Enjoy the Trip” showcases a tender side to his voice that is a nice contrast to the bass-heavy, heart-pounding cheer routines that dominate the show.

Maisie Salinger, who plays the outsider Bridget, is similarly endearing, and her vocal chops are surprising and fulfilling. Performing “It Ain’t No Thang” alongside Nautica (Jennifer Geller) and La Cienega (played brilliantly, in drag, by Sharrod Williams), Salinger shows us that the outsider can steal the limelight in a showstopping number about self-empowerment and peer encouragement.

Bring-It-On-logo-National-TourEmily Mitchell as the villainous, self-righteous Eva is similarly captivating. Playing the initially innocent but pen-ultimately wicked antagonist, Eva is at once sweet and evil, a dichotomy that Mitchell captures well.  Bailey Purvis as the ditzy, self-righteous Skyler is absolutely hilarious, and she manages to walk the fine line between hilarious parody and total absurdity with poise.

Strathmore bills the performance as “bitingly relevant and sprinkled with sass,” and the performance certainly delivers. As a cornerstone of musical comedy in the 2012-2013 season when it played on Broadway at the St. James Theatre, Bring It On: The Musical, is a treat for the whole family.

Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one intermission.

Bring It On: The Musical played for two performances only on March 30, 2014, at 3PM and 8 PM at the Music Center at Strathmore — 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD.  Tickets for the continuation of Strathmore’s 2013-2014 season can be purchased here. Bring It On: The Musical continues its international tour until July 27, 2014. Click here for tour dates.