Kearny High School thespians are getting ready to “Bring It On.”
What they’re bringing is the musical of the same name first shown as a film in 2000 and then presented on Broadway 12 years later.
It opens on the KHS auditorium stage Thursday, March 16, with repeat performances March 17 and 18, all at 7 p.m. There’s also a special dinner & show for senior citizens Tuesday, March 14 at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $8 for students and senior citizens; $10 for all others. The special senior preview is free.
Theater-goers will be thrilled to know it’s got a very familiar name attached: music and lyrics are credited, in part, to Lin-Manuel Miranda – who did the book, music and lyrics for the current hit musical “Hamilton.”
Tom Kitt and Amanda Green helped write the music for “Bring It On” and Jeff Whitty did the book.
As described by Wikipeda, the show “focuses on the competitive world of cheerleading and over-the-top team rivalries.”
Given the physical demands the show imposes on the key performers, it should surprise no one that “Bring It On” doesn’t appear on the top 10 list of high school theater departments.
But that didn’t discourage Milly Gonzalez – now tackling her fourth KHS production as director – from picking it as this year’s musical offering.
And that’s partly because growing up in Union City, Gonzalez was herself a participant in cheerleading competitions as a then-member of the St. Augustine All-Stars from fifth-grade through high school, between 1992 and 2003.
“I was excited to do this show,” she said.
As were, it turned out, KHS students who are currently involved in competitive cheerleading activities and who turned out for casting calls.
Initially, Gonzalez said, she was concerned that she might be hard-pressed to fill out her show roster, given that the core of her experienced student actors graduated last year.
Four days of auditions were separately scheduled for singers, dancers, cheer teams and gymnasts. “Safety was our No. 1 concern,” the director said. “Only those kids with prior experience in stunting were allowed to lift fellow students.”
So, gradually, a cast took shape.
“We’re pushing 56 and only seven are seniors,” she said. “Thirty are first-time performers. But what we do have is a combination of music students, athletes and kids who do competitive cheerleading.”
The challenge then became teaching vocal skills to the athletes while leading those music students up to the task through the steps of cheer/gymnasts.
And the result, she said, was “triple threats” of “strong performers” in vocals, cheer competitors and coming timing. “It’s going to be a shocker.”
In the opening dance number of the show, for example, the audience will see “five girls in the air,” she said.
During rehearsals, students practiced on mats provided by KHS supervisor of athletics Denise Pais-Sotello but when the curtain goes up, the mats won’t be there but actors functioning as spotters will.
A section of KHS auditorium seating will be blocked off to provide more space and clearance for some of the higher throws, Gonzalez said.
Aside from the near-constant action on stage – there are half a dozen larger dance numbers, all involving gymnastic elements – the show’s music is certain to grab the audience’s attention, especially for those familiar with “Hamilton,” since there are similar strains of the composer in this show.
“You can hear some rap, rock ‘n roll, reggae, ska – it’s very eclectic,” the director said. And the accompanying dancing, she added, “is taken to a whole other level with krumping, a kind of aggressive hip hop.”
Among the principals are junior Mackenzie Byrne, playing Nautica, who was among the ensemble in last year’s production of “Hairspray”; senior Cesar Fernandez (Randall), who was Larkin in “Hairspray”; senior Taylor Wright (Bridget), appearing in his fourth KHS musical; senior Daniel Alexander (Whitt/Ensemble); and senior Tatiana Melendez (Nautica), who is making her musical debut as dance captain. “Her assistance was crucial,” said Gonzalez, “in helping bridge the gap I had on current trends in stunting.”
All the student performers have been “very dedicated,” Gonzalez said, putting in several hours of rehearsal after school each day, Monday to Friday, and some Saturdays as well.
John Bednardczyk is responsible for lighting and set design; David Carvella is the sound designer; vocal and music director Ed Gargiulo leads the pit orchestra; and Kathleen Astrella is business manager.
For Gonzalez, meanwhile, her KHS theatrical experience has led to outside directing opportunities. Last fall, she guided a performance of “The Sorcerer” for the Ridgewood Gilbert & Sullivan Co. and this May, she’s been tapped by the company to direct “Patience.”