Review: Bring It On (Southwark Playhouse)
The British Youth Theatre Academy stage this high-school musical with music from Lin-Manuel Miranda
On a blisteringly hot night with programmes provided as fans with every seat, it's no mean feat to perform a high-octane musical that requires full-on energy for over two hours. So all the more credit to the British Youth Theatre Academy for delivering such an uplifting show with Bring It On.
Based on the successful film from 2000, this was a Broadway hit in 2012, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, together with Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, and book by Jeff Whitty.
Dealing with the bitter rivalries that accompany a place in a US high school cheerleading squad, it's chock full of teen angst and ambition, with queen bee Campbell on the cusp of glory as her Truman squad heads for the national championships. But she's brought low after being switched to Jackson High, a hard-knock school where there are metal detectors at the gate, and with a dance crew where absolutely no pom-poms are required.
Composed and assured, Robyn McIntyre shines as Campbell, and from her first notes in "What I Was Born To Do", we know we're in safe hands. Kristine Kruse is a brilliant Bridget, the humble team mascot. There's a sweet satisfaction to her transformation from self-effacing also-ran to upfront star, as she finally gets her place in the squad, and her man Twig (cool Ashley Daniels) into the bargain. Her performance in "It Ain't No Thing" – together with Nautica (the charming Mary Celeste) and La Cienega is an anthem to otherness, and a clear show highlight.
Matthew Brazier's willowy elegance and sheer presence makes him a mesmerising La Cienega, and he's also Dance Captain, leading an athletic ensemble.Danielle, played with cool insouciance by Chisara Agor, is the undisputed leader of Jackson's own dance crew, and the friendship that blossoms between her and Campbell is cemented in the sweetly sung duet, We're Not Done.
Isabella Pappas as mean girl Skylar has some of the best one-liners and delivers them with pitch-perfect venom, while Sydnie Hocknell dissembles as Eva, the smiling villain. She delivers a show-stopper in "Killer Instinct", and the costume choices for the dancers in this number are one of designer Tom Paris' inspired decisions. His locker room set takes us straight into the politics of high school life, while Ben Jacobs' lighting design helps create the tension of competitive sport.
Musical Director Chris Ma leads an excellent five-piece band, setting a crisp and energetic pace for the show.
The British Theatre Academy offers accessible professional training to young people under 23. For Bring It On, director and choreographer Ewan Jones has produced a very engaging performance from a young, eager cast who generate an infectious enthusiasm and inject joie de vivre into a show that may be frothy and has a few wobbles here and there, but has a big, beating high-school heart.