PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Bring It On; Three Cheers for Pompon Power

By Harry Haun
02 Aug 2012

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Among the opening-night guests you might guess — wrongly — had a cheerleader past: La Cage's Tony-winning choreographer Jerry Mitchell ("but I did stage the pompon routines"); Birdland's Jim Caruso ("No, I played the autoharp. I went to a prep school where the cheerleaders who were the most sarcastic, low-key people on Planet Earth. It was, like, 'Go. Please. Whatever'").

Armyan Bernstein, who executive-produced the source movie (Kirsten Dunst's big arrival flick of 2000) and the four fast direct-to-video sequels that followed like meteorites, also produced the Broadway-musical version with Universal Pictures and, after four years of working on it, seemed plainly pleased with what emerged: "I think what this did is it took it from the joy of storytelling in a film to the euphoria of music and dancing and cheerleading live. It was always meant to be this. This is where it was always heading, and I'm so thrilled to have been a part of it."

His game plan was to have back-to-back Tony-winning composers go toe-to-toe on a multicultural score: Into the Heights' Lin-Manuel Miranda would do the ethnic songs, and Next to Normal's Tom Kitt would cover the Caucasian front, with a wordsmith assist from his High Fidelity lyricist, Amanda Green. That was the plan, but it didn't play out that way at all.

"Everything involving Tom and Amanda was a joy to me," Miranda beamed. "It was such a collaborative effort. We thought I'd write one school, and they'd write another. But that went away so quickly because we became so interested in writing an integrated score. We wrote whatever needed to be written, whatever served the purpose. We were all writing the same score. There were no egos involved. It was really about: Best Idea in the Room Wins — and that's the best sort of collaboration you can have. I learned an enormous amount from them, and I'll always be grateful."

This collaboration, racing back and forth across ethnic lines, was the fun part for lyricist Green. "I just loved the way we all worked together," she admitted. "Lin and Tom and I wrote songs for the Truman school, songs for the Jackson school, songs for Campbell the heroine [Taylor Louderman], songs for Danielle the other heroine [Adrienne Warren], songs for Skylar, the 'beautiful-is-sometimes-enough' villainess [Kate Rockwell]. We wrote a number of songs together."

Elle McLemore
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Green's comedy gene particularly comes to fore with "Killer Instinct," a wicked ditty for Skylar's deputy and the show's uber-bitch, Eva (Elle McLemore). It's more of the schadenfreude Green tapped years ago in "Every Time a Friend Succeeds a Little Piece of Me Dies Inside." "It's in the same good-hearted vein," she chirped.

Kitt did a deep bow in the direction of the words of the show — the lyrics by Green and the deliriously funny teen-talk libretto devised by Avenue Q Tony winner Jeff Whitty. "It's a very human-made show," he remarked. "I think that the emotion in the show is quite real and relatable, and I'm very proud to be a part of it."

Kitt said he and Miranda were slow to realize how their music would have to accommodate the acrobatic activity going on. "We knew it at first, but we kinda glossed over it. 'Aw, how much could it be?' When we did a reading and everyone was working at a music stand, it's glorious. 'Oh, that sounds great.' But Andy kept saying, 'Trust me. You're going to have to pare down.' Of course, when we actually saw the movement, it became very clear that we had to adapt, and we did, and I think we did a really good job. They can't sing a high note while they're flipping in the air, although some of them can. They can do anything. They're extraordinary."

There are easier ways of making a Broadway debut than being slung uncertainly hither and yon. "I have a blast," Louderman insisted. "I have nothing negative to say about this whole experience. I'm so thankful to have worked with the people I worked with. They've helped me grow as a performer and as a human being."

She was happy to report the close calls are minimal, barely existent. "In the stunt calls we do every day before the show, every once in a while, we have a stunt that falls — but usually during the show with all of that energy, the stunts go up."

"Seasoned veteran" Rockwell is one of the five — and the only female — to have been around the Broadway block before (well, twice before: Legally Blonde, Hair), and is democratically flung around as well, but she takes the ride in stride. "They have been teaching that stuff to us for two and a half years now." (The show toured prior to Broadway.)

Her blonde bitchiness — dare she say it? — came naturally to her, almost with no practice. "That's not even work. That's just me getting to use other people's words. That is probably how I feel anyway. This is my first real experience with comedy, and it is so satisfying. It's, like, immediate gratification. 'Bitter Bitch Barbie' — that's me! Isn't that wonderful? That's Jeff Whitty, 100 percent — and he's written a great, great role in Skylar." Would you call her the tart of the show? "You can say that. That's spicy. You may use the word 'tart.' There are other words that you may not use."

Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green share their Bring It On songwriting process with Playbill Video.