NEW YORK — Don’t bother trying to figure out who wrote what in Bring It On: The Musical.
Co-song creators Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Kitt and Amanda Green enjoyed reading reviews of their show as it toured the country and critics tried to untangle their contributions. Some saw Kitt’s fingerprints all over a song he didn’t write. Another was certain Miranda could be heard in something he had no part of.
“Usually when someone tried to do that guessing game, they got it wrong,” Miranda says with a laugh. “That just feels like it’s a credit to our process.”
Inspired by the teen cheerleading movie franchise, Bring It On: The Musical was as risky a move for the creators as one of the human pyramids the performers do onstage. Yet all three are now basking in the glow of its well-received Broadway debut.
“Whether you were a cheerleader or whether you were a theater geek — as I was — something in the show will hopefully speak to you. That’s always the goal: To transcend everybody’s stereotype,” says Miranda.
The musical has an original story by Jeff Whitty, who wrote Avenue Q, and is directed and choreographed by Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler, who choreographed In the Heights. But the real key to the show has been its songs — assigned not to a single person, but to three.
Miranda, who conceived and wrote the music for In the Heights and Pulitzer Prize-winner Kitt, who wrote the songs for Next to Normal, had admired each other’s work, but never collaborated before. Green had teamed up with Kitt before, writing lyrics to their musical High Fidelity, but hadn’t worked with Miranda.
Blankenbuehler approached each with the idea of joining forces and they jumped — maybe even tumbled — at the chance. “When the idea was first presented to me, the team of artists was so exciting, you just thought, ‘Well, that’s a room I want to be in,’” Kitt says.
The musical tells the story of a white cheer queen from Truman High School who is redistricted into a more urban school the summer she is supposed to take over the squad as captain. Thrust into the unfamiliar Jackson High School, she adapts and helps build her own dance crew to compete with her old school.
Miranda, whose credits also include the Spanish translations for the 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story, sees a connection between the feel-good story and the real-life process of creating the musical.
“I think the show is about theater. It is about how you cannot create something like this on your own. Having the best idea in the room win and having the interplay of collaboration both onstage and off, we can create something larger than ourselves if we do it right. That’s what our characters come to realize in the show and that’s the lesson we relearned working together.”
More than 20 songs have made the final score following a 13-city national tour — and one in Act II is new for Broadway. (In fact, it’s only a few weeks old.) The creators say the writing process was organic.
“We started bringing stuff in and establishing our own musical vocabulary and, then as we continued working, we started borrowing themes, we started writing songs together, and now I don’t think there’s a song in the show that we all don’t have our fingerprints on at some point or another,” says Miranda.
Or as Green puts it: “We really got into each other’s jar of peanut butter.”
To learn more about the young people they were writing about, the team learned cheer vocabulary, trolled websites of interest to high schoolers and watched competitions on ESPN. Green and Kitt actually went to a meet — the National Cheerleaders Association at Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
“We were all chasing this very contemporary, heightened cheer world,” says Miranda. Of the music they heard, he added: “It’s these pop songs sped up to a crystal meth-crack level. So what’s the musical theater version of that?”
Once written, though, their songs often needed serious tweaks since they weren’t exactly fitting into a conventional musical. For one thing, they learned it’s hard to sing while making a basket catch.
“We’d come in with a soaring ballad, only to be informed that it wouldn’t work then because two of the girls will be upside down and three others will be making a costume change,” Miranda says.
Behind the scenes, the trio insist there was little rancor among the accomplished songwriters. “I think we all pushed each other,” says Green, whose father is Broadway lyricist Adolph Green.
Miranda agrees: “It ended up being sort of a wonderful system of checks and balances. If we were all on board, then we knew we had something special.”
Kitt is in synch with that notion: “Everybody was so respectful. It’s that great thing where people argue their points — people are going to disagree — but it’s in the name of the piece. Everyone was working toward one thing.”
So happy was the collaboration that the team has jokingly made up titles for a sequel. There’s Bring It On 2: Electric Boogaloo and Bring It On 2: Summer School. Miranda’s favorite is Still Bringing It.
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