Bring It On!

Date 7th May 2015
Society Sawston Youth Drama
Venue The Marven Centre, Sawston, Cambridge
Type of Production Musical
Director Adam Bonner & Gareth Furbank
Musical Director Clare Irwin
Choreographer Katie McArthur


Author: Sue Hartwell

This was my first opportunity to see a production of this very modern musical.  Based on the original hit Universal Pictures movie "Bring It On", this stage version features an original story by TONY Award winner Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), with music and lyrics by TONY Award winning composers Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt, with additional material by Broadway lyricist Amanda Green.

For SYD Juniors (aged between 12 and 14), this was a real challenge on several counts - a musically difficult score with rap-style lyrics - cheerleader style choreography with aerial stunts - and plenty of colourful characters, with their jealousies and friendships, amongst two very different rival American high school dance sqauds, who end up competing against each other at the National Cheerleading Championships.

SYD Juniors is a very talented group, who always strive to give a first-rate performance and in respect of the high-energy choreography devised by Katie McArthur, they achieved some amazing stunts and very well controlled routines - well done.  Directors Adam Bonner and Gareth Furbank had also made full use of these youngsters' considerable acting talents and created some excitingly contrasting scenes between the more "refined" girls of Truman High School's cheerleading squad and the hard-knock dance crew from the inner-city Jackson High School, visually enhanced by the appropriately different costumes and make-up devised by the Wardrobe team and Make-up artists.  I was quite moved by the angst and slightly threatening attitude realistically portrayed by Danielle and her gang.

As Musical Director, Clare Irwin had the more difficult task of supporting the soloists and full company numbers with the use of the backing tracks provided.  I thought the musical score on the whole was very brash and discordant and unsuitable in some respects for young voices, so I have to applaud Clare and the cast in getting to grips with and overcoming the difficulties with some of the more musically challenging numbers.  This wasn't helped either by the volume of the backing tracks, which sometimes overpowered the soloists, despite their use of personal radio mics.

However, the enthusiasm and vitality of the cast was overwhelming and the pace of the performance was kept brisk and sharp, with good, clean scene changes by the stage crew. There were some very commendable performances, too.  Kate Rainsford gave a very impressive performance as Campbell, celebrating her achievement as the newly named Captain of the Truman High School cheerleading sqaud, who then discovers that through a change in school district boundaries, she's forced to spend her final year at Jackson High School. Jackson High's aggressive dance team initially treat her as an unwelcome outsider and Campbell has to use all her persuasive powers to convince them to let her join them.  Her dance routine in "Friday Night, Jackson", dressed in an old leprechaun mascot suit, was just amazing!  El Mayo was captivating as Danielle, the intimidating and posturing head of Jackson High School's dance crew, well supported by Molly Farrer as Nautica and Persie Bell as La Cienega, their number "We Ain't No Cheerleaders" quite powerful.  Maisie Moore was just perfect as the spunky relegated member of the Truman High School cheerleading squad, who has to endure yet another year as their mascot, but comes into her own when she also is transferred to Jackson High with Campbell and is an instant hit, not only with Danielle and her two buddies, but also with Twig, a cool dude nicely played here by Keilan Grant.  Another young performer who impressed was Jodie Searle as Eva, who as Truman High School's newest and greenest member of the cheerleading squad, almost loses the school's chance of winning a place at the Nationals, but through circumstances, finds herself as Captain, following Campbell's departure to Jackson High.  Her portrayal of a jealous and manipulative youngster, determined to win at the Nationals at all costs, was very convincing, particularly in her number "Killer Instinct".  Good supporting roles, too, from Freya Sutcliffe and Ella Humphreys as Skylar and Kylar, whose friendship and loyalty to Campbell is shaken by Eva's betrayal.

The young cast had obviously enjoyed the opportunity to perform this refreshingly different style of musical and were applauded warmly by the enthusiastically supportive first-night audience. Despite my misgivings with the score, I should like to congratulate SYD Juniors and the production team on achieving a very commendable standard with a very challenging piece of modern musical theatre.