Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot follows high school senior Campbell, the perky, driven cheerleading team captain of the Truman High School squad. When she is redistricted to Jackson High, which is over in the "hood," she goes from being the top of the pack to the outcast who has lost her main goal. Not only does she not quite fit in but Jackson doesn't have a cheerleading team. Bring It On is a "fish out of water" story with a dash of All About Eve thrown in as well. Will Campbell succeed at her new school? Can she convince them to start a squad to compete against her former school to win the cheerleading championship?
Jeff Whitty's witty script does coast a little in the beginning until Campbell gets to Jackson High, where it really takes off, but it also doesn't always go where you think it will go, which is refreshing. While there are characters we've seen before, they are presented in a unique way which adds to the originality of Whitty's book. With a score by three different composers you might think that the music wouldn't quite gel, but it does, with many effective numbers including rousing ensemble numbers and soaring ballads with music styles that range from traditional musical theatre to R&B, hip hop, and even a little rap. It helps that you have skilled Tony Award winners Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton and In the Heights) providing the music with Miranda and Amanda Green supplying the very creative lyrics.
Carly Grossman plays Campbell with the appropriate amount of high energy as well as fear for her new surroundings. She has the perfect fresh-faced look and athletic abilities for a high school cheerleading team captain. But Grossman also has realistic acting skills to pull off the loneliness and confusion of suddenly being an outsider along with superb vocal skills to also effectively sing about that experience. As Danielle, the leader of the "crew" at the new school whom Campbell attempts to befriend, Phoebe Koyabe has the perfect blend of sass and "you think you're better than me but you aren't" attitude but also displays a compassionate side as well. Danielle is the kind of character that is realistically rough around the edges and Koyabe excels at playing a role that could easily come across as one we've seen before, but has plenty of layers to it. At just 15, Koyabe's soaring vocal abilities are exceptional. Grossman and Koyabe also instill their parts with a clear sense of vulnerability beneath self-assured exteriors.
Maggie Waller is Bridget, who also gets redistricted along with Campbell. Bridget is an outcast, having been the team mascot for the past few years, but she longs to be a full-fledged cheerleader. Waller is a comic gem in the part. She is sassy, hysterical, and the perfect oddball friend that anyone would love to have on their side. Trey DeGroodt is exceptional as La Cienega, one of Danielle's crew. I absolutely love how this character, who is clearly either transgendered or simply a gay man who prefers to wear drag, requires no explanation, back story, or heartbreaking revelation and is completely accepted by the Jackson students, no excuses required. DeGroodt's portrayal is cliché-free and full of substance and style, from his line delivery to the way he walks, sings, and dances.
As the Jackson High boys who befriend Campbell and Bridget, Brandon Reyes is charming and sweet as no-nonsense Randall, who challenges Campbell's self-possessed stature and preconceived perceptions of her new friends; Clay Rollon is sharp and direct as Danielle's boyfriend Cameron; and Sam Primack is an absolute hoot as Twig, the skinny, rapping, white boy who falls for Bridget and her big booty. Cody Seaver brings a sweet, gentleness to Steven, Campbell's Truman boyfriend. Rounding out the cast are Ava Tyson and Cate Carlino as Campbell's former teammates; Jasmine Bassham as Eva, the crazed Truman High sophomore who has some serious plans of her own; and Katie Czajkowski who is a member of Danielle's dance crew. All four girls create realistic portrayals that also include plenty of comedy and high energy dancing.
Director Kenny Grossman draws superb, honest performances from his cast with everyone delivering realistic, caricature free portrayals. His smart staging keeps the show moving at a quick clip but he makes sure not to gloss over or rush the emotional, heartfelt moments. Choreographer Lynzee Foreman seamlessly weaves together the cheerleading sequences into the story, with many of them naturally building from the musical numbers. But she also includes modern day dancing as well, especially in the dancing sequence by the crew at Campbell's new school. The only downside in the dancing is due to the low Spotlight ceiling which doesn't allow for any high flips and pyramids (which were a huge highlight when I saw the show on Broadway) to be incorporated into the cheer sequences.
Bobby Sample's minimal set pieces and Luke Bader's fun video effects are effectively used in conjunction with John Hontz's expressive lighting and clear sound to continually change the look of the stage to portray the various locations in the show. Samantha Utpadel's smart costume designs instantly identify the characters, with DeGroodt supplying the realistic hair and make-up designs.
Even though it takes a few minutes before it kicks into gear, Bring It On is a well-crafted breath of fresh air in how it is original and honest while presenting layered characters that are more than what they first appear to be. With an exceptional cast, sure-footed direction, and vibrant choreography, Spotlight Youth Theatre's production is a fun filled, high energy, high flying time that does full justice to this story about self-esteem, true friendship, and acceptance.
Spotlight Youth Theatre's production of Bring It On runs through May 8th, 2016, with performances at 10620 N 43rd Avenue in Glendale. Tickets and information can be found at www.spotlightyouththeatre.org or by calling 602.843.8318
Director: Kenny Grossman