"It Ain't No Thing": Bring It On: The Musical Cheers On Broadway's First Transgender Teen Character

By Adam Hetrick
15 Aug 2012

Haney in Bring It On: The Musical.
photo by Joan Marcus

La Cienega's somewhat incognito inclusion has caused confusion, with some critics calling the character a drag queen and many using the derogatory term "tranny," a word the trans community is eager to distance itself from. Others balked at the notion that a transgender teen would be readily accepted in a high school environment. Those words hit home for Whitty, who oberves that "so many people still don't understand the language – to use the word transgender instead of drag queen." However, he doesn't take issue with critics citing his rosy, utopian view of an accepting high school environment. La Cienega isn't bullied or harassed. "I can completely live with that," he says. "It's refreshing, for me, to have this kind of story. I wanna go be immersed in a world that I want to be in."

For Haney, who appeared on Broadway in Memphis, Tarzan and Wicked, La Cienega's carte blanche acceptance is timely. "With everything that's going on in the country with teen suicides and beatings, there's a strong message in the show that isn't bashed into the audience's head," he says. "There's something peaceful about acceptance and letting people be what they want to be and that it's okay. At the end of the day it really doesn't affect you, because you are still going to live your life the way you want to live your life."

"There are big misperceptions about transgender people," Haney adds. "I'm trying to really give it the respect that it deserves. It's a hard thing to get up every day and be true to yourself and then have backlash from people who don't want you to be who you are supposed to be."

La Cienega was one of the final roles to be cast. Whitty says he wasn't sure if an actor actually existed who could inhabit the role honestly and also harness the "fierceness" required by the girls at Jackson High. The creative team auditioned transgender performers for the role, but Whitty points out that the pool of represented talent in the trans community is currently very small. Drag performers were also brought in, but "there was a lot of sort of commenting on femininity," he recalls.

Luckily, Haney was a few blocks away preparing to come in for final callbacks. Dressed in an Afro wig, a headband, lip gloss and four-inch heels, Haney says he knew that if he could walk "the gauntlet" from a friend's apartment to the audition room, he could get a taste of the courage it took to be La Cienega.