Sunday, 12 June 2016

Bring It On The Musical - WAAPA (11 June 2016)

It’s coming up to mid-June which means it’s time to talk about WAAPA’s latest mid-year musical spectacular at the Regal Theatre. Here are some thoughts in random order.

As I parked and walked to the theatre I could hear all the sounds associated with the big football game at Subiaco Oval; the roar as a goal was kicked, the echo of the stadium announcer. There were 44 supremely fit young athletes battling it out in front of a big crowd. Inside the Regal, Act 1 bursts into life with What I Was Born To Do and it immediately strikes me I am watching 39 supremely fit young performers bursting out of their skins to entertain a packed house. The comparison is not lost on me as I marvel at the sheer energy levels and fitness of these students. They look amazing in their cheerleading uniforms, all sleek, toned and terrific. Like the footballers this isn’t by chance. Such peak conditioning demands hard work, discipline and total commitment. The results are spectacular.

Then they start to move and the choreography is astonishing. From the traditional forms of cheerleading with its drilled precision, human pyramids and tosses to the more primal moves of the hip hop crew from the rival school, the dance sequences are mesmerising. This production takes the ferocity of 2015’s Urinetown and ramps it up a notch to fill the much bigger stage area.  Is there anything more thrilling than seeing a massed group of performers absolutely crush the big set piece dance routines?

By the time you read this it is possible musical theatre’s man of the moment Lin-Manuel Miranda will be basking in the glow of a record Tony Awards haul for the musical Hamilton. His contributions to Bring It On are unmistakeable. While this may not be duelling founding fathers immersed in revolutionary war and its aftermath, there are two distinct tribes engaging in their own battle here. The rhythms and language of grungy Jackson High School are perfectly captured by Miranda. It’s a crystal clear stylistic difference to the peppy Truman High School sound written by Tom Kitt (Lyrics) and Amanda Green (Music). The performers struggled a little with the rap where diction and enunciation is critical to carry Miranda’s rapid fire verbiage but the down and dirty hip hop vibe is tremendous fun.  

It also means the orchestra gets to play in various styles encompassing the gamut from rock musical to hip hop. It occurs to me that every year the musicians in the pit under the baton of conductor David King are the unsung heroes of these productions. They always acquit themselves in exemplary fashion and tonight was no different. Props then to Mister King and his musicians Tim How, Ben Hogan, Josh Webb, Jack Maher, Nathan Straker, Chris Bye, Brad Forbes, Amberlie Boyd and Ben Albert.

WAAPA has clearly decided to leverage off the success of last year’s monster hit Legally Blonde by choosing another age appropriate musical for the cast and, again, turning up the dial on all the surrounding elements. The audience was encouraged to post selfies to Instagram using the hashtag #bringitonwaapa which were then flashed up on the big screen before the show. There was a 2 minute countdown clock to announce the beginning of the production accompanied by upbeat music normally associated with major sporting events. The rear projection imagery on that big screen was excellent, outdoing last year’s attempt with live video feeds. This was a musical about young people for young people so the social media strategy was right on point. The young girls behind me squealed in delight when their picture flashed up on the screen.

There was also a sense of bigger, brighter, and better with the set, costume and lighting design. This was a pulsating show that matched the energy of its performers, was a visual feast, and sounded great. In many ways all these elements elevated what is really a paper thin plot and made it compelling.

Then there are the performances.

Hannah Burridge! What I love about the mid-year show is the ‘discovery’ of a talent who might not have been previously featured. Hannah has always been a vibrant presence in the ensemble or supporting roles in previous shows but she takes front and centre stage here and is terrific. Displaying true triple threat ability it’s her acting that maybe impresses the most as she plays the newly elected squad captain who is redistricted to another school and learns that lying and manipulating people to win a cheerleading competition comes at too high a price. It’s such a confident and engaging performance.

In this she is not alone. Rebecca Cullinan plays the biatch to perfection; Stefanie Caccamo follows up her role as the drowsy chaperone with another fabulous turn as the faithful friend and comic foil Bridget; Melissa Russo brings the attitude and sass as Danielle; while Hayden Baum threatens to steal the show with his La Cienega a total scream. Christina Odam continues to display a light touch as the unassuming tyro before morphing into the ultra-competitive villain of the piece.

In a nice reversal, it’s Joshua Firman’s Steven who is the unaware and schmaltzy partner. The women rule the roost in the world of competitive cheerleading. Jason Arrow plays Randall with understated sensitivity and Enjoy The Trip with Hannah is a lovely moment both in acting and in song.

Other highlights for me – Do Your Own Thing introduces us to the crew at Jackson High with some serious attitude; Hannah’s early ballad One Perfect Moment sets the scene for the character’s initial motivations and showcases her voice; It’s All Happening kick starts the second act with a bang while It Ain’t No Thing is another sequence that lets Stef, Hayden, and Stephanie Wall (Nautica) get a little funky; Legendary is going to be the most audacious thing you see at the Regal all year; with We’re Not Done fittingly a key moment between Melissa and Hannah that is well acted and sung with flair.
As I was leaving the theatre I saw Ben Elton in the crowd. He must be licking his lips in anticipation at what the third year students will bring to The Beautiful Game, his collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber, in August.

Then it was all over and I was outside mingling with disappointed Eagles fans with their scarves and paraphernalia. At that moment I wish I had a Jackson High baseball cap…

Directed by Jay James-Moody with Musical Direction by David King, Choreography by Michael Ralph and starring WAAPA’s third year musical theatre students ably supported by their second year colleagues, Bring It On runs until 18 June at the Regal Theatre in Subiaco

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