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Cheerleading Music


NEW YORK (AP) — Dont 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 Kitts fingerprints all over a song he didnt 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 its 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. Thats always the goal: To transcend everybodys 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 others work, but never collaborated before. Green had teamed up with Kitt before, writing lyrics to their musical "High Fidelity," but hadnt 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, thats 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. Thats what our characters come to realize in the show and thats 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, its 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 dont think theres a song in the show that we all dont have our fingerprints on at some point or another," says Miranda.

Or as Green puts it: "We really got into each others jar of peanut butter."

To learn more about the young people they were writing about, the team learned cheer vocabulary, trolled web sites of interest to high schoolers and watched competitions on ESPN. Green and Kitt actually went to a meet — the National Cheerleaders Association at Manhattans Hammerstein Ballroom.

"We were all chasing this very contemporary, heightened cheer world," says Miranda. Of the music they heard, he added: "Its these pop songs sped up to a crystal meth-crack level. So whats the musical theater version of that?"

Once written, though, their songs often needed serious tweaks since they werent exactly fitting into a conventional musical. For one thing, they learned its hard to sing while making a basket catch.

"Wed come in with a soaring ballad, only to be informed that it wouldnt 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. Its that great thing where people argue their points — people are going to disagree — but its 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.