Theater Reviews: Bring It On; Who's Your Daddy?

Bring It On
Ahmanson Theatre | 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown L.A. | Through Dec. 10 | Tickets $20-120 |

While it isn’t completely effective, the latest “movie turned into stage musical,” Bring It On: The Musical, is a fun and infectious show that had its world premiere at The Ahmanson Theatre in Downtown L.A. An energetic and likeable affair, it is surely over-the-top, but relatable enough for us to care.

The story veers away from the original 2000 film, originally written by Jessica Bedinger, which focused on the Truman High cheerleading squad competing against rival school Jackson High.

For the stage version, Truman High’s head cheerleader Campbell (Taylor Louderman) discovers her town has been redistricted and she will be moved to nearby Jackson High, where—let’s just say being white is the minority. Since cheering is her life and her team keeps winning the Nationals, she is not too happy about this new transition. Her best friends, the dim and bitchy Skyler (Kate Rockwell) and sassy Kylar (Janet Krupin), remain behind, along with Campbell’s boyfriend Steven (Neil Haskell of So You Think You Can Dance fame) and a new addition to the squad, Eva (Elle McLemore), a tiny ball of lively energy.

The only person that arrives at the new school with Campbell is Bridget (Ryann Redmond), Truman High’s energetic mascot with low self-esteem. A big girl, she never got to be on the squad, but is loyal despite the slight. Swiftly the two meet the head of the Jackson High hip-hop crew, Danielle (Adrienne Warren), sassy Nautica (Araian DeBose), transgender La Cienega (Gregory Haney), as well as cute loner Randall (Jason Gotay).

Things go along OK at first—(this is a comedy, so you know they aren’t going to be dealing with drugs or gang shootings)—but soon enough, Campbell discovers there is no cheerleading squad. To make matters worse, she finds out that Eva has orchestrated taking over the Truman High squad. In a fit of determined rage, Campbell convinces Danielle and her friends to form a cheerleading squad by lying about a National Championship prize package that consists of a product endorsement and reality series. Her goal? Bring Eva down. Things go well for a while, but once the lie is revealed, things slide downhill fast.

The vigor and enthusiasm of the premise is engaging and the musical numbers by Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green are fairly fun. While the songs do tend to have a similar musical style that makes them run together, there are a few standouts. Bridget’s anthem of personal acceptance along with La Cienega and Nautica (“It Ain’t No Thing”) is hilariously entertaining and, in fact, marks Ryann Redmond as the breakout star of the show. Taylor Louderman is a delight as Campbell, and her voice is pitch perfect. But it is Ryann that steals the show, and her character deserves more focus.

In fact, the downfall of the show is the second act, where too many characters and situations threaten to topple the cheerleader’s pyramid. Because of this, the thematic foundation of the show gets lost.

Choreography and the cheer routines by director Andy Blankenbuehler are excellent, and the cast is uniformly phenomenal. If they can just whittle down the story before its eventual Broadway run, this could be a “don’t miss” show, rather than a pleasurable diversion that—to be fair—does make you leave with a smile on your face. —Kevin P. Taft

Who's Your Daddy?
Little Victory Theatre | 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank | Through Dec. 18 | Tickets $24-34 |

Actor Johnny O’Callaghan’s one-man show, Who’s Your Daddy?, is a fast moving slice of life that—I can assure you—you’ve never seen before. While many solo shows relate personal revelations and experiences, I suspect that O’Callaghan’s will be the one that is, beat by beat, the most original.

A few years back, O’Callaghan was a gay out-of-work actor living in the Hollywood Hills. Hailing from Ireland (and Canada), he moved to the U.S. with the promise of making it big. But like so many Hollywood stories before him, things didn’t work out the way he was promised—nor how he expected—and soon enough he was depressed and suicidal. Worse still, his faithful dog had just gone missing.

While putting up “lost” signs, he ran into an actress friend who told him with great enthusiasm that she was going to Uganda to film the children at the House of Hope Orphanage. She told him to come with her and, three days later (having left a suicide note behind because he assumed he’d be crushed by an elephant), he made his way to one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the world. Upon reaching the orphanage, he was surprised to see how poor and unhealthy the children were—but also how joyful. And before you can say “Angelina Jolie,” he met a boy named Benson who took to him so immediately he heard a voice in his head that told him the boy was his son.

What happened next was a nine-month “labor” to adopt the boy (now called Odin)—overcoming hurdles of the Ugandan government, disapproval from family and friends and a maze of red tape that threatened to stop the adoption at every turn. When he almost gets hacked by a machete, you know this story is unlike anything you could imagine.

O’Callaghan is an incredibly charming performer and it is a wonder why he never made it big. Adorably affable, he isn’t afraid to be self-deprecating and to show his truths, warts and all. He navigates back and forth between his trips to Uganda and his life prior to making the original trip where he had a failed relationship with a musician, indiscriminate sex with a female celebrity and binge drank with the best of them.

He speaks openly about his less than stellar family life and his own self-pitying ways. This only shows us how much he changed once Odin entered his life. But it’s not just a story about becoming a responsible person/parent. It’s about two lives saving each other. It’s about finding strength to keep going, even when the struggles seem insurmountable. And it’s about learning to laugh even when you’re being chased with a machete or don’t have enough food to eat.

Odin and O’Callaghan’s stories —while being wholly different—are in many ways the same. Perhaps that is why they found each other: both needed someone to rescue them, while finding the power inside to heal each other. It is a beautiful story that will touch you deep in your gut, while making you belly laugh throughout. One of the best of the year. —Kevin P. Taft

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