Go behind the scenes in the ‘Bring It On: The Musical’ rehearsal room with us
Cheerleading is typically considered to be an all-American pastime. Thousands of Stateside squads rally players on the field, combining gymnastics, dance, and stunts into 90-second routines. But cheerleading is becoming a British phenomenon too. There’s nearly 1,000 teams nationwide, and the sport’s popularity will certainly skyrocket when cheerleading debuts as a sport at the 2024 Olympics.
So it’s an ideal time for Bring It On, the musical based on the popular 2000 film about rival cheer squads, to make its way to London. And just like the pyramids the cast make, it takes a lot of people to get Bring It On to the stage.
We spent the day in the Bring It On rehearsal room for a first look at the musical. The cast and creative team shared how the musical has updates for a 2021 audience, and the effects of cheer camp.
The young cast is full of quadruple threats
Bring It On is inspired by the 2000 movie of the same name, focusing on the competitive world of high school cheerleading and what it takes to get to the top. With a young cast, Bring It On is sure to bring a breath of fresh air to London’s theatre scene, with many newcomers entering the scene.
“We describe it as a pocket rocket of super cool joy,” says director Guy Unsworth. “Bring It On has an amazing company of people who have such an array of talent. We talk a lot about triple threats in musical theatre, and with this show we’ve got actors/singers/dancers, and then acrobat on top so it’s an amazing number of talents across the whole board.”
The cast’s communal joy definitely shone through at the invited rehearsal. During a preview of the Act 1 song “What I Was Born to Do,” everyone rallied around each other, cheering on Amber Davies who belted the song’s final notes with ease. As the cast tumbled through the air too, it was obvious that those who were performing stunts got an adrenaline rush.
“I know in the Broadway cast they had the musical theatre and then the cheer separate,” said Vanessa Fisher, who plays Danielle, one of the lead Jackson cheerleaders. “We have to be quadruple threats. We have people in our cast that have cheered for a long time, so we can lean on them.”
The show has been updated for 2021 British audiences
America in 2000 is a very different place to London in 2021. From watching the cast rehearse, we saw many references more suited for today than the Y2K era. The musical also premiered a decade ago on Broadway, so it’s due for an update!
“Even though it was 10 years ago, it feels quite dated to now,”Fisher said. “So they updated the lines so it’s current and the American jokes have changed.”
We don’t want to spoil the line, but before the song “It’s All Happening,” there’s a nod to Amber Davies’ stint on Love Island. There’s even a moment dedicated to the Marvel films too, where characters assemble together — just like the Avengers.
“When we looked at it originally, we felt that it was probably too much of a halfway house,” director Unsworth said. “Do we go back to 2000, or do we bring it back up to date? We felt we could bring it up to date. There’s a few line changes and equally also things that would land better with a British audience.”
We ain’t no cheerleaders: Teaching the company to cheer was a big undertaking.
During rehearsals, the cast went through a crash course in stunting to make sure everything is perfect for opening night. Dubbed “cheer camp,” the multi-day event saw the company learning tricks of the sport so they could convincingly play cheerleaders onstage. Clearly, the cheer camp worked, as the fliers zoomed through the sky without any worries (at least on their faces.)
“We had three long, glorious days of cheer camp… haha… it’s so short,” said choreographer Fabian Aloise. “But it was really helpful. It gauged where people were and how fast they can learn stuff, and how much we can throw at them in one go. Coming through the pandemic, some people hadn’t been in a room with others. And now we’re gonna throw you up in the air and we’re gonna trust you.”
There were varying levels of cheer experience in the cast, and some of the more experienced performers were able to help support and teach their colleagues. “I’ve done cheer since I was 12, so I’ve had quite a background in it and I could help coach,” said Alicia Belgarde, who plays Eva, a Buccaneer cheerleader who rises through the ranks to become captain. “To be trusting people underneath you who have no experience whatsoever is a big thing and especially people you’ve just met. So in a way, it was great teambuilding — all of a sudden I had to trust strangers.”
Even dance training was helpful when tackling the cheer stunts. Fisher, who plays Danielle, studied at performing arts school Urdang, and she said that experience was beneficial when joining this show.
However, Amber Davies, who plays cheer captain Campbell, had never danced or done cheer.
“This is my first experience in a dance show, previous contracts I didn’t even do a step-ball-change,” Davies says. “That’s why I was so eager to sign up to do it because I wanted the skill back in motion and add the cheer element to my repertoire.”
While her co-star, Olympic gymnast Louis Smith, has a lot of experience in tumbling and stunts, he had more of a learning curve on the musical theatre end of things.
“It’s been a lot happening that I didn’t fully expect,” said Smith, who plays Cameron, a hip-hop dancer at Jackson High who eventually joins the cheer team. “I thought it’d be dance and acrobatic focus and you’d learn your lines in your own time. You’d just expect to know it. It’s a naive way of thinking I guess. I’m surrounded by amazing people so I’m constantly chewing their ears off about what to do.”
Conversations have been edited for clarity and length.