Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bring it on, Adventure Wednesday! Or: I was a plus-sized cheerleader

Today's post is a rare Multimedia Monday and an Adventure Wednesday combination.

Tom and I are both big fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda - a Wesleyan alum whose Tony award-winning In the Heights was on near-constant rotation in our household for all of 2008.  (We saw Miranda star in it twice, once in New York, once in Los Angeles when Miranda performed with the tour as a special engagement.)

So when we found out that he was contributing to a new musical, we got excited.  And when the tour of that new musical began in Los Angeles, we knew we had to get tickets to see it.  So last Monday, we went to the Ahmanson to see Bring It On: The Musical.

Yes, that's right.  Bring It On is now a musical.  Or, rather, the franchise built around competitive cheerleading has expanded.  The play isn't adapted from the original film - it's clearly inspired by it, but it has its own characters and plot.  In this story, the preppy captain of a cheerleading team is redistricted to an urban school across the tracks - a school without any cheerleaders.

I liked the original movie.  I have a soft spot for stories about the high school experience, and Bring It On had surprising bite and humor.  (Other high school films I enjoy - aside from the obvious 80s ones - include Can't Hardly Wait and Easy A.)

But something about the musical version hit close to home.  This version features... a plus-sized cheerleader.  (Technically she starts out as a mascot, but she breaks out of her mold.)

And once upon a time, I was a plus-sized teenaged cheerleader.  (Technically, I was a pom-pon girl, but outside of former cheerleaders and pom-pon girls, who knows the difference?)

Yes, that's me.  I hardly feel like I look plus-sized in that picture, but at the time, my size-16 body seemed enormous to me in comparison with the single-digit sizes that made up the rest of my pom-pon squad.  One of the most embarrassing moments in my young life was realizing that there were no pom uniform skirts available in my size.  My mom had to take two of the small skirts to the tailor and have them made into one for me.

Maybe it was me - my own hang-ups, my own shyness - that made me feel not a part of the group, either time I was on a pom squad.  (Once in eighth grade, once in tenth.  I skipped auditioning the other years, because I wanted to focus on theater, journalism and band.)  I felt separate.  I felt "other."  Among the pom and cheer set - with a few friendly exceptions - I felt like a total weirdo.  When I was with my goofy theater friends, or editing an article for the paper, I always felt included.  My weirdness fit right in.

With many years of retrospect, I'm sure everybody feels weird - even the cheerleaders.  High school is tough.  (Maybe that's why I like watching it - or writing about it.)

So, no surprise, I enjoyed Bring It On: The Musical.  Particularly the music that seemed to come from Lin-Manuel Miranda.  The simple pop-style numbers at the preppy school didn't grab me the way that the hip-hop songs at the urban school did.  When the main character goes to the first day at her new school, a deep reverberation of the beat sounds out, accompanied by the men's voices shouting "MOOOOOOOVE!"  It rips the musical right open.  From there it grows into a celebration of personal expression, of crossing lines and being yourself.

The characters grew on me throughout the show, but none more than Bridget, the plus-sized character played by Ryann Redmond.

She's the standard equivalent of the plus-sized-best-friend character, but the writers - and Ryann - bring a lot of spunk to Bridget.  As an unconventional quirkster, she fits in better at her new school than her old school, where she joins the dance crew and develops a love interest.  It's a lot more for a plus-sized actress to try on than they usually are given, and Redmond wears it well.

It was a pleasant experience at the theater, and for awhile, I thought that might be all it was... that is, until the very end, when an unexpected moment made me cry.  The very last dance move - and the most celebratory bird-fly to conformity and coloring inside the lines - was a cheer lift.  Coming on the heels of two and a half hours of cheer lifts, that shouldn't be particularly impactful.

But it was a plus-sized cheerleader at the top of the pyramid.  And that message - you can do anything you want to do - made sixteen-year-old Heidi (and thirty-two-year-old Heidi) very happy.

The show has left LA, but it's touring across the country, starting in San Francisco and heading to big cities throughout 2012.  You should check out the website for dates.

All right.  I'll be back with another post soon.  Until then - and always - remember that you can do anything.  And remember to take care of you.


  1. You helped make this theatrical weirdo feel included as well. I know this isn't really the place, but your encouragement to get me to join LMS that sophomore year made a HUGE impact on the rest of my life. I can't say it enough, but thank you.

    Back to the subject at hand, I'll have to check out the music for this show now. I love the music to In the Heights (haven't had the chance to see the show yet), so I'm expecting this to be enjoyable too. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I love your pom photo!! And, a great post once again.

  3. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. I've always enjoyed high school movies & musicals too. I guess it makes sense that I became a high school teacher, huh? I'll definitely check out Bring It On when it hits San Fran.

  4. It's a lot more for a plus-sized artist to try on than they typically are given, and Redmond wear it well.