Hey Woodmont, You’re So Fine You Blow My Mind! Hey Woodmont!
BY SANDY STAGGS
The cult classic film “Bring It On” with Kirsten Dunst did for millennials what the 1970s Dallas Cowboys pin-up gals and Toni Basil’s infectious “Mickey” did for Generation Xers, thrust an art form and sport into a national pastime.
Now, America’s favorite cheerleader captain gets the crowd in an uproar again in a high-voltage stage version produced by the award-winning Wildcat Players at Woodmont High School in Piedmont.
Loosely based on the first “Bring It On” film and its four (yes, four!) forgettable sequels, the story’s setup is a bit trite, but the spirit of diversity, acceptance and friendship reign supreme. To my chagrin, there is no Big Red as a villain, but we are the sensational music is by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt and Amanda Green.
And is this music awesome! It’s fresh, it’s laced with wit and vigor, and it’s ultra-hip. And these some 60 Wildcat kids, most who have never been in a theatrical production, go, go, go for it.
Ingénue Ally McCaslin is Campbell, the new captain of the Truman High School cheerleading squad, whose home is mysteriously zoned into a different school district (there’s an interesting subplot reveal about this in act two) and joins the more diverse dance troupe at rival Jackson High School, ruled by the resident queen with a Nicky Minaj mystique, Danielle (played boldly and handily by Janelle Odom) and her bad girl posse, Brianna Guerra’s Nautica and Josiah Thomason as La Cienega. No that’s not a typo, but more on La Cienega later.
Basically, Campbell and her new gang square off against the reigning champs from Truman, now controlled by her former ingénue Eva (Sam Clifford in a delightfully frightening “All About Eve” meets “Psycho” portrait) and stalwarts Skylar and her shadow Kylar (the spunky duo of Jenna Gilmer and Arial Jordan).
And our heroine has an ally in fellow Truman transplant (and former mascot) Bridget, a bona fide nerd who strangely enough becomes popular among her new peers. Bridget is a valiant, funny and well-conceived outcast character and perfectly embodied by Haley Fernicola, who self-deprecatingly states her case in song with comic panache in “It Ain’t No Thing.”
Miss Odom is delightful in Missy Elliott-realness fronting “We Ain’t No Cheerleaders” and gives her best Beyoncé in “We’re Not Done.” But she outright terminates it in the “Welcome to Jackson” featuring Manuel’s signature bouncy synchronicity of rhythms that propel this song. You can almost hear “Hamilton” developing in this composition.
McCaslin as a leading gal exudes the qualities of a pop superstar – Iggy Azalea, Arianna Grande or even Katy Perry come to mind. Her crispy delivery and breadth explode throughout this musical from the techno-pop opener “What I Was Born To Do?” with lyrics like “The Truman Girls, Superhuman Girls” to a balladic mood of “One Perfect Moment,” when she displays refined pipes and dramatic authenticity in a wholesome Olivia Newton-John-esque way.
The fellows in the main cast include Noah George as Campbell’s love interest, Randall; Billy Cheek as Bridget’s beau, Twig; and David Terry as Cameron, Danielle’s boyfriend.
And most of all, kudos to Mr. Thomason as La Cienega, the first high school transgender role in a Broadway musical and on the Wildcat Players stage. And it seemed Piedmont was ready for a transgender character last weekend as the audiences readily embraced her. But the author doesn’t give her a backstory and glosses over the issue nonchalantly, much as today’s kids (and not their parents) have acclimated to the idea of transgender classmates. Too bad Manuel didn’t write La Cienega a solo.
Director Harry Culpepper, Jr. got this show to the finished product in a mere five weeks – half the time of most high school musicals – in his debut and expanded season. It does help that Culpepper has directed this show once before at his previous school theatre, but such determination by these student is not surprising given that they just clinched the state title last for their momentous production of “The Taste of Sunrise” in which the cast learned American Sign Language.
There is a spirit stick in the beginning, but you won’t find spirit fingers, a jitterbug or waltz in this urban high school drama. Instead, choreographer Lauren Cabiness brings sparkling and brash full-body moves at a full-throttle pace in nearly every number: hip-hop steps, a little twerking and lots of cheerleading of course.
She has turned these kids into a formidable force with dance and step moves merged with tumbling, pyramids, drops, lifts and flips, all bolstered by 10 real Woodmont cheerleaders in the cast. Of course, this all comes to an ecstatic climax at the nationals competition in a grand crowd-pleasing finale.
Jamie Hawkins, whom I last saw conquering Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” at Electric City Playhouse, proves his versatility here and shows real command of the anti-opera and contemporary music, fostering some stellar vocal stylings and blending from his young stars from the rap in “It’s All Happening” all the way to the feel-good “I Got You” send-off.
Culpepper also created the scenic design in an industrial minimalist motif with rear-projection video to establish settings and just a few moving set pieces like school lockers and a DJ booth, flashing gloriously in a club scene courtesy of John Dowbiggin’s flashy, modern LED lighting that has a ready-made school color scheme: red for Truman and green for Jackson.
The wonderful costumes – and there are many – were designed by student Gracie Southwell, with a little procurement assistance by her mother, Paula. Brava Gracie!
Woodmont drama instructor Jonathon Long is assistant director on this production. Sydney Coggins is Stage Manager with assistants Mollie Bowman and Morgan Scott. Mr. Long, Lane Chapman and Isaac Schwartz are on lighting duties and Jacob Catoe and Lai Robinson are on sound.
This technical team has been plagued with sound equipment failure on this production, but aside from a few microphone glitches in the first act, the sound quality was …well, sound. The Wildcat Players are trying to secure funds for a new sound system, so contact Mr. Culpepper if you help.
There is some serious shade in this show: briefly ass, bitch and ho. But like it or not, that is part of today’s teenage vernacular.
“Bring It On: The Musical” continues April 27-30, Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Woodmont High School, 2831 W Georgia Rd. in Piedmont. For tickets, call (864) or visit https://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/wdmonth/main2.asp?titleid=bringiton. You may purchase tickets at the door with cash or check only. No credit cards can be taken at the door.