In some ways, Broadway has always been an extreme competitive sport. When young musical-theater talents dreamed of their first Broadway show, however, they probably never envisioned being tossed 20 feet into thin air or balancing on a castmate's raised hand and the sole of a single sneaker.
Welcome to "Bring It On," the genuinely highflying, hyper-gymnastic and surprisingly savvy-sweet cheerleader musical based loosely on the teen movies that began in 2000.
This is a harmless entertainment, at least for the audience, cheerfully put together by such offbeat Tony winners as writer Jeff Whitty ("Avenue Q") composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda ("In the Heights") and composer Tom Kitt ("Next to Normal"). But for all the positive messages and appealing contributions from these new-generation pedigrees, the hero of the show must surely be director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler ("In the Heights"), who turned theater-trained singers and dancers into confident acrobats and real-life competitive cheerleaders into believable characters.
These characters, of course, follow the usual high-school outlines -- the well-meaning ingenue (Taylor Louderman), the privileged mean girls (Kate Rockwell, Elle McLemore), the overweight girl with untapped value (Ryann Redmond) and the multicultural toughies (led by the formidable Adrienne Warren) from the school with the metal detectors.
We've been following these youngsters from "Grease" through "Legally Blonde" to "Glee." This one even has a sardonic tranny (Gregory Haney) by way, maybe, of "Priscilla."
But the cliches come with twists, thanks to the cleverness of the hip creative team. And the twists tumble in on piles of human pyramids.
Louderman shows real range as Campbell, the golden captain of the pep team whose dreams of a national championship are suddenly derailed by school redistricting. Dropped into a complicated world of hip-hop crews, not single-minded squads with pompons, she learns life lessons while changing lives around her.
The songs tend to be basic-pop wailers with healthy comic swatches of Miranda-style rap. The red/blue, pink/aqua sets by David Korins wisely keep things simple, flashing plot on four hanging screens. The rest of the hanging -- not to mention the girl-tossing and the other gut-in-our-throat leaping -- is left to this likable and astonishingly fearless young cast.
WHAT "Bring It On: The Musical"
WHERE St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.
BOTTOM LINE Savvy-sweet cheerleader musical with fearless acrobatics