bring it on – the musical

‘Bring It On – The Musical’ is courageous and impetuous show that was adapted by Jessica Bendinger from Jeff Whitty’s book. It was originally a major movie starring Kirsten Dunst. It was then made into a stage musical in 2011, when Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s score had lyrics added by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Broadway version went on to receive two Tony Award nominations.

This is the latest offering from the much admired, Black Box Performing Arts team, a theatrical group dedicated to helping young performers reach their ambitions. The production can be seen at the Kalamunda Performing Arts Centre, 48 Canning Road in Kalamunda. The curtain goes up each evening at 7.00 pm until Saturday 10th February. There are two matinées on Sunday 11th February at 1.00 pm and 5.00 pm. The set design by George Boyd and Katherine Freind comprises a rear wall cyclorama, with black drapes at the wings. There were a few vertical lighting towers on and around the stage. There were several versatile symbolic, props, such as the lockers and the girl’s bedroom. Set construction is a thankless task, when everyone expects quality but rarely does anything to help. I was therefore pleased to see the large list of names of the Constructors. It included many of the young cast themselves.

This is true theatre fellowship, and many of theatre and cinema’s best directors have started life as stagehands or set builders. Janene Zampino, George O’Doherty, and Evania Marlow carried out all of the scene changes quietly and efficiently, under the supervision of the stage managers Kelsey Zampino and Katherine Friend. The show was lucky to have one of Perth’s two or three highly talented lighting designers. Emma Brown operated Don Allen’s inventive lighting design. The tricky headpieces, the orchestra, and the sound effects all kept soundman, Ken Hay on his toes. Every good show should have a quality programme, and Jennifer Mesquita Souza’s graphic design was excellent.

On her last day of junior year, the loved and admired by all, Campbell Davis (Katie Price – superb), is about to become the cheerleader captain at the Nationals Championship for the prosperous Truman High School. However, the schools are re-zoned – but by whom? – And Campbell finds herself transferred to the poorly funded, multinational, Jackson High School. She leaves behind one of her close group, who is proud be a bitchy, brainless Barbie – Skylar (Asha Vivian – great acting), but also ‘knows’ that she is the most beautiful person on the earth! Another close friend is Kylar (Saskia Ware – wonderful), and the runt of the litter, the annoying, untalented, and arrogant girl of the year, Eva (Chloe Marlow) desperate to become the main cheerleader.

Campbell is also leaving behind her cute and worshipping boyfriend, Steven (Harley Dasey).

Jackson High do not have a cheer squad, all they do is hang around doing rap. Campbell now finds herself bottom of the heap and no longer respected. Danielle (Amy Cornel – flawless powerful voice), leader of a hip-hop dance troupe is reluctant to befriend her. The hard, Queen Bee Nautica (Ariana Vallejo) does not like the new ‘White Girl’ and their other pal is the crossdresser, La Ciénega – it means marshland! (Blake Jenkins – what a mover), who is easy going.

Then Campbell spots Bridget, another ex-Truman girl. Your heart will go out to this naïve but loyal and beautiful person, who has always had ambitions to be in ‘The squad’, however, inevitably she ends up as the mascot. Bridget (Matilda Jenkins – great), stays loyal and enthusiastic despite rejection. She has been redistricted as well. The two girls look at the passing talent, there is Randall (Cooper Jenkins), one of the school’s heartthrobs, Cameron (Luis Barnes) and Bridget’s favourite – Twig (Ashley Garner) who gives her a special present.

The highly energetic, athletic and acrobatic Truman Ensemble included Aaliyah Thompson, Aimee Samut, Bianca Thomas (Veronica and Truman Twin), Charlotte Bradford, Chloe Pibworth (Truman Swing), Christine Bethune, Corban Featon, Destiny-Rose Bradford, Emily Giglia, Evan Telcik (Truman Twin), Imogen Dearlove (Storm), Kate O’Connor, Liam Telcik (Truman Twin), Lilliana Pinkerton, Maddi Thomas (Brittney and Truman Twin), Mia Lupton, Tayah Abraham, The Jackson High Ensemble included Aidan Murray, Aliyah Gelmi, Ashley Elliott, Connor McCabrey (as Steele), Emma Downs, Holly Newton (Legendary singer and Swing),Lara Clarke, Liana Samut, Natallia Separovich (Dance Captain), Tamzen Yates, Taylor-Anne Bright, and Zahli Ford. Both ensembles were excellent, every person had a defined personality and each performer put heart and soul into their part.

With around two-dozen amazing songs, and a team of enthusiastic but inexperienced youths (aged between on 12 and 18), the musical director Phoebe Jackson has had to encourage the cast to work hard. The result however has been amazing. Often with children’s shows, the quality can be very variable between songs, and the quality of the singers can range from heart-warming to cacophonous. In this show, every single youth can be proud. The choruses were smooth, and in tune. Some of the cast had to sing soft and moving lyrics, and even these 14 or 15 yr. olds fully captured the emotion. When Campbell changed school, the musical backing took on a Hispanic style. The lead singers all had crystal-clear voices, with Katie Price, Amy Cornel, and Chloe Marlow showing a huge vocal range that was performed without signs of strain, even when plenty of power was required. In front of the stage, in a real orchestra pit, were a youngish band of musicians, who perfectly captured the feel of the music, they were playing. On keyboards were Maddie Moulin, Shaun Davis, on guitars were Rob Anderson and Wei Chong, on the Bass was Kelly John McCarthy, Drums Liam Rock, and Percussion Thom Selim. Add to the powerful singing, Shanice-Kalina Thompson’s energetic choreography routines, and we are really starting to stretch the cast’s capabilities. Once again, no problems. The singers did not become breathless, the smiles were retained throughout, and the overall effect was most uplifting. Exactly what cheerleaders should be producing.

The competition to become a cheerleader in the US is huge, but I am convinced half this cast could be chosen. Phoebe’s choice of instruments was perfect, as they allowed soft incidental music to drift through a scene, and yet when Jackson HS demanded the power required for the South American style dancing, it was there. The balance of the instruments’ volume was particularly good, no violent drumming – often the drummer would simply play a hollow tube effect with his drumsticks. To find how solid a cast is, I always check the back row of a dance routine that is where the weak members will be placed. In this show, the dancers and acrobats kept interweaving so that there was no ‘back row’. Even in the highly complex, fast moving numbers, when arms, legs and even the shoulders were moving time to the music, there was never a single performer out of step. Tremendous work. The dance routines covered several very different styles, including rap, reggae, hip-hop and techno (well done Aidan Murray). All at a blistering pace. The costume changes were numerous, and with such a massive cast, co-ordination and constant reproducibility was supervised by the costume mistress / designer, Michaela Pavlov. Michaela had to produce two magnificent School Mascots that brought smiles to us all. Great work.

The WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate Katherine Friend with decades of experience (she is now over 21) is the brave – or mad – director. Joking aside, Katherine has a string of major productions on her résumé, along with several prestigious awards. Knowing the expression, ‘Never work with children’ Katherine has gone boldly in so many approaches. Throughout the performance, the cast really look as though they are enjoying themselves – the sign of a successful director. Katherine had to train the youngsters to speak and sing with a mild American accent – all VERY successful. Had this show been a simple drama, then the main cast members would have proved themselves as first class actors. They had stage presence, very good facial expressions, and wonderful body language. Add to this that they had to sing, have good movement and complex choreography, and then this cast showed huge talent. The whole demanding performance was immaculately rehearsed. The show ran for two and a half hours, but for the whole performance, not a single cast member showed loss of concentration, fatigue or ‘the big smile’.

Behind every successful woman are usually a several more successful women, and one man. The seamless production team were Mel Vivian, Paula Garner, Michaela Pavlov, Evania Marlow, Donna Thomas, Jayne Dearlove, Jacqui McGarrity and Wendy Coe – and the man, Ryan Marlow. What a quality team. If you get a rousing opening chorus, you know the show is going to be good. This production had magical singing, great music, and wonderful choreography, accompanied with aerial twists and hands free cartwheels.

The energy of this fabulous opening was maintained for the full 150-minutes. A great show. Every single person on the stage can be proud of his or her performance.