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|New musical by gay writer Jeff Whitty brings cheerleading films to stage|
|Written by Jim Farmer|
|Friday, 21 January 2011 00:00|
A key player on the all-star team launching the world premiere “Bring It On: The Musical” in Atlanta is a familiar name to gay theatregoers – Jeff Whitty, who shot to fame when his puppet play “Avenue Q” became a sensation. Whitty, who is gay, is writing the new musical, which plays at the Alliance Theatre through Feb. 20.
The cheerleading musical features a rich array of talent. Besides Whitty, there is Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights).Blankenbuehler, who directed “In the Heights” and is directing and choreographing this production. The music and lyrics are by Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, also of “In the Heights.” Also in the collaborative team are Tony winner Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) and Amanda Green (“High Fidelity”).
Unlike the creative team for “Avenue Q,” which was mostly gay, this is a largely heterosexual crew, yet Whitty is positive that they will be able to make a show that pleases everyone. He feels that the world of cheerleading – with all its drama, intrigue and politics – will resonate LGBT theater fans.
Whitty, a Tony winner himself for “Avenue Q,” tried to get the rights to do a stage version of the popular cheerleading movie way back in 2004, but it never materialized. Two and a half years ago, his agent called and said that Blankenbuehler was directing. Whitty jumped aboard.
“I love Andy’s work,” he said. “I’m glad this happened when it did. I always thought the cheerleading world would allow a lot of room for comedy.”
The crew has been in Atlanta since before the holidays working on the project. It helps, Whitty says, that they have all been through this kind of thing before – staging a world premiere.
“We all get along so well,” he says. “The mood has been light but serious.”
The musical is based on the “Bring It On” movies but doesn’t follow them point by point. It’s about rival cheerleading squads — one white, one African-American — competing against each other at the National Cheerleading Championships.
“The first movie is near perfect in tone for me,” Whitty says. “When I see a movie adaptation and I know how it ends, it’s a bummer for me.”
He has taken all the “Bring It On” movies and melded them together. He does say, however, that the themes of racial and class conflict are very much part of the equation. “Bring It On” also incorporates themes such as diversity, the evil of ambition and revenge. That, and a “big villainess,” Whitty promises.
More than two dozen performers are in the show. The team did a nationwide search and saw 1,600 people. Included in the cast are eight professional cheerleaders.
For now, Whitty says the team is focusing on opening night instead of forecasting future gigs.
“There has been some talk of it, a national tour,” he says. “I am excited about the idea of that, but we are all focused on getting the show ready for Atlanta.”
Inclusivity has been important to him as a writer. “Avenue Q” had a prominent gay character and ‘Bring It On’ includes a transgendered character who is part of the African-American squad.
“In my mind, what the first movie did so brilliantly was introduce the gay character so matter of factly,” Whitty says. “There is a transgendered character here; her name is La Cienega. It’s not a big issue. The character is accepted, and she is fierce.”
Later this year, Whitty’s version of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” will open in San Francisco. Playing Anna Madrigal will be Tony winner Betty Buckley. The music is by Jason Sellards (aka Jake Shears) and John Garden of the Scissors Sisters. Getting the rights to do that was amazingly easy. He had heard that Maupin was interested in developing a stage version. The two met and agreed to work together.
He never had any idea that the puppet musical “Avenue Q” would be such a success – or would best “Wicked” for the Tony for Best Musical.
“It enabled me to make a living doing what I love for the first time in my life,” he says. “It was gratifying and it opened up so many doors.”
Before “Avenue Q,” he had worked as a go-go dancer.
‘An Evening with Rex Reed’
This weekend, openly gay film critic and author Rex Reed will present a one-night only show at Actor’s Express. “An Evening with Rex Reed,” set for Sunday, Jan. 23, features Reed’s stories about life behind-the-scenes in Hollywood and on Broadway.
Before writing books and for national magazines and hosting the nationally syndicated television show “At the Movies,” Reed was an actor himself, most notably in the film “Myra Breckinridge.”
“It is a massive thrill to have someone of Mr. Reed’s renown joining us at Actor’s Express. I can’t wait to hear his stories and anecdotes about the fabulous people he knows and the fabulous life he has led,” Actor’s Express Artistic Director Freddie Ashley says in a press release.
Top photo: Jeff Whitty’s musical ‘Bring it On’ melds the two films about highly competitive high school cheerleading, keeping the themes of race and class conflict, and including a transgender character. (Courtesy Alliance Theatre)
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