The creative team involved with Bring It On includes some of Broadway’s most talented and promising young artists. Director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler won a Tony Award for his choreography in In the Heights and is making his directorial debut with this dance-driven piece. The book is by Jeff Whitty, who won a Tony Award for Avenue Q. The music was originally conceived for two writing teams tackling two very different high schools: one with music and lyrics by Tony Award winner Lin-Manual Miranda (In the Heights) and the second team made up of music by Pulitzer and Tony Award-winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and lyrics by Amanda Green (High Fidelity), the daughter of legendary Broadway lyricist Adolph Green (On The Town, Singin’ in the Rain). As work on the show progressed, however, these divisions became loose and the team worked together as one collective creative unit. Bridging the disparate musical styles is music supervisor/arranger/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, who won a Tony for his work on In the Heights and a Grammy for his work on the cast album.
A gathering of such high-powered, creative luminaries has the potential to be volatile, but Blankenbuehler, who brought the team together, says there are no egos when they work.
“Everyone in the room has won a Tony Award; there’s nothing to prove,” he says. “We all really met eye to eye on the piece, and creating it became a party. When we get together, the room is really electric. It feels like we should be together.”
Part of that chemistry may be due to the fact that everyone involved is still “hungry.” Individually, they have been lauded for contributing something new and exciting to the American musical, but each needs to create a legacy. “We all love the American musical and what musicals do, and have no desire to change that,” Blankenbuehler says. “We just want to create a traditional musical in our own voice.”
There aren’t a lot of modern musicals that are written with the writers, composers and lyricists living or working in the same state. But, Blankenbuehler says, the Bring It On team made it a point to all be in the same room for at least a solid week every six months or so. “We [would] sit around and verbalize ideas, and spend a lot of time with Jeff, the writer,” he says, discussing things such as when it feels right in the script for someone to sing, and to whom they should be singing. Afterwards, everyone would go away and work. “The team is very fast,” he adds. “If we got together for a month straight, we could go from nothing to Broadway in a month.”
Universal Studio’s Bring It On film franchise has been so phenomenally successful, Blankenbuehler’s team didn’t want to adapt any of the existing movies for the stage. “When Universal approached me two and a half, three years ago, they gave me carte blanche to do whatever we wanted to do,” he explains. “The movies set up a whole formulaic world, and we thought that world was so strong, we wanted to take our own stab at it. I brought Jeff, Tom, Lin and Amanda together, and we started brainstorming ideas from scratch. We knew there had to be a sassy cheerleader that didn’t get it, an interracial competition, a diverse musical presence and be set in high-school cheerleading. So, there’s a continuation of the themes even though the story is brand new.”
The Alliance Theatre was on a short list of potential theatres to debut the new musical from the start, and it was the clear frontrunner to host the world premiere. “The Alliance has gotten a great reputation for developing new musicals,” Blankenbuehler says. “Atlanta is a great melting pot of a city for us to try this show out in.”
Even though Bring It On is his directorial debut, Blankenbuehler laughs at the notion that he is somehow an overnight success. “I’ve been in New York City for 20 years,” he says. “I’ve danced in seven shows on Broadway and a lot of tours. I was fortunate that I was a great dancer who also could sing … but I’m also a business person and knew that I wouldn’t have longevity in performing. So seven years ago, I committed time to just do choreography.” And he worked on many projects, some of them for free, before In the Heights exploded.
For Bring It On, Blankenbuehler auditioned about 1,600 people to fill 25 parts. So, the best advice he has for aspiring musical performers is for them to diversify their skills and perfect their technique. “You have to do it all,” he says. “The people who get the job could get the work as a singer or a dancer or an actor.”