Bring It On: The Musical, the new high-octane production that catapults the cheerleading film franchise to new heights, has gotten a dose of adrenaline from three of Broadway's hottest songwriters.
Tony-winning In the Heights star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal composer Tom Kitt and his High Fidelity lyricist Amanda Green, are the trio behind the score of Bring It On, which premiered in Atlanta in early 2010 prior to launching a U.S. tour last fall in Los Angeles. The musical is rallying for a 12-week limited Broadway run at the St. James Theatre beginning July 12.
Bring It On director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who nabbed a Tony for In the Heights, separately wooed each of the writers with the idea of collaborating on a score that would not only showcase their unique styles, but support a fresh new story by Tony Award-winning Avenue Q book writer Jeff Whitty.
"I slept on it and the next morning I was like, 'That's a room I want to be in,'" says Miranda. "I thought that it was a really unique and exciting way to tackle these two schools and the story," adds Kitt.
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
The 2000 film of the same title, which pits two cheerleading teams from vastly different schools against each other, spawned four subsequent films and introduced audiences to the world of contemporary cheerleading, which eschews pompoms and ponytails for pop music-video moves and gravity-defying stunts.
While the stage production retains the title and the world of competitive high school cheerleading, Whitty's vision for Bring It On: The Musical ratchets up the stakes of the plot with an "All About Eve" complication.
"It really is a new musical," Kitt says. "We're not looking at any one thing that exists that we can draw from." A touchstone for each of them was their own high school experience. As Green points out, "High school is never really over. You're always trying to fit in, to make good."
Miranda interjects, "It's just when you feel the most! You have the most feelings per second.... You're bursting with hormones and everything's life or death...which is great, fertile territory for a musical."
"It's always life or death with cheerleading — not physically, but you win or you lose," Green says. "All year you work towards a two-and-a-half-minute routine, and it's gotta be perfect. The emotions of cheerleaders are over the top. They're ecstatic, they love their team, and if they lose it's the end of the world."
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
That determined spirit also fuels the writers, according to Kitt. "I would come in and hear a piece of music that Lin brought in and it would just blow me away," he says. "I would become inspired for the other moments in the show. It just felt like we would one-up each other, and not in the sense of improving or being competitive, but literally lifting each other up by our own participation in the process." Green, who has provided lyrics for both composers, adds, "It's fun learning how themes from one of Lin's songs could work in a later moment in one of Tom's songs. It's become very interwoven. It's definitely up for grabs who writes for what character and what school."
Within seconds, Miranda and Kitt are taking turns at the piano, demonstrating how a hip-hop sequence (a Miranda signature) gives way to an introspective pop ballad by Kitt, featuring heartfelt lyrics by Green. The musical identities are unique, but the transition is seamless.
When asked if they were continuing to fine-tune Bring It On for Broadway, Green says with a hearty laugh, "Not since one o'clock last night!"
Adds Miranda, "It's never finished. There's always something that could be a little sharper, a little better."
Another driving force that keeps the show and the writers pumped is the cast of young theatre talent and competitive cheerleaders who bring serious pedigree to a production studded with aerial stunts. "We had to learn to stop screaming," Green says, recalling seeing the maneuvers for the first time. Blankenbuehler reminded the writers, "What have I been telling you? They can't be singing because they'll be going up in a basket toss!"
"I've never seen anyone be able to do the things these kids can do," says Miranda. Physical demands aside, the Bring It On company is definitely up to the challenge. "All of them are out of their comfort zone," Green says. "Now it's, 'Belt that high D, but belt it while you're standing on two hands!'"
(This feature appears in the July 2012 issue of Playbill magazine.)
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