Theatre yesterday and today



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Having written entirely all on his lonesome the smash-hit musical Hamilton, the one-man-band that is Lin-Manuel Miranda now finds himself one of the most famous names and faces in the American theatre. He first burst on the scene with his 2008 Tony Award winning Best Musical In the Heights and then (as many are well aware), it took him a number of years to write The Hamilton Mixtape, which in its shortened title would become the sensation we know it today. But in between, along with a host of collaborators, Miranda contributed to another Broadway show which had its premiere at the St. James Theatre four years ago today: Bring It On: The Musical.

For this musical adaptation of the hit film from 2000 (not to mention its four direct-to-video sequels), Miranda co-wrote the music with Tom Kitt (who wrote the score to the Pulitzer Prize winning Next to Normal). He also co-wrote its lyrics with Amanda Green, who would be represented on Broadway later in the same season with the musical Hands on a Hardbody, for which she would receive a Tony Award nomination. Bring It On’s book was by Jeff Whitty, whose previous outing on Broadway had been one for which he won the Tony: Avenue Q.

Bring It On’s plot about rival cheerleaders wouldn’t exactly bring to mind the conflict of West Side Story, but the film was pretty adorable and contained a good foundation for which to conceive a musical. And although it may have felt like solid ground, the nature of cheerleading and all its bounding, tumbling and flipping made it positively airborne. It fell to Miranda's pal, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who won a Tony for In the Heights (and would repeat later with Hamilton), to create its dances, as well as direct the show.

Miranda’s involvement with the show was a sincere one. He told an interviewer in the Wall Street Journal that when Blankenbuehler first told him it would be like one of Miranda’s favorite films, All About Eve—only with cheerleaders—Miranda couldn’t resist.

Universal Pictures Stage Productions was the main source of Bring It On’s financial backing. As a film studio, Universal had produced the original film and owned the underlying rights. Producing for the theatre was nothing new to them, as they were also the principal backers of Wicked, and look how that turned out. Over 4 billion dollars in grosses worldwide and still going strong, Wicked is by far and away more successful than any film produced in the one hundred year history of the movie studio itself. With Bring It On, the idea was to nurture the show in regional theatre, in this case the Alliance in Atlanta, and then take it on a tour around the country. If business was good then they could bring it into New York. Nudging the show towards profit while on the road would decrease the risk of bringing it to Broadway.

When I saw the show in Los Angeles, I was very taken with it. Not being part of the core audience it most craved didn't matter. I think I can recognize a first-rate entertainment when I see one. In fact, I told a producer friend that I thought it was a show worth investing in. I felt it had a better-than-average chance of being successful in New York with the right marketing campaign targeted at fans of Wicked and The Lion King. I wasn’t discouraged either by a fairly negative review in the Los Angeles Times that said “it leaves more discerning theatergoers with little to cheer about.” With L.A. as my home base since 1986, and as a longtime reader of that paper, I saw them get things wrong time and time again.

When Bring It On: The Musical did arrive on Broadway it met with tepid reviews and nothing like the business it had hoped. I don't know what the financials were in the end, but with only 172 performances, my guess is that if I had invested I would have lost it all.

I recall a performance in it I greatly liked that served as the Broadway debut of Adrienne Warren, who recently made good on the promise of her potential in Shuffle Along, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical. As I’ve written in prior posts, she is one to keep an eye on: a dazzling talent with no question there are great things in her future.

As for the future, I did enjoy coming upon this from the Bring It On bio that Lin-Manuel wrote in Playbill four years ago:

“Upcoming: The Hamilton Mixtape."

Yeah. Uh huh.

If you would like to comment on any of these posts, please do so below. I look forward to hearing from you.