Based on the 1999 film of the same name, But I’m A Cheerleader: The Musical tells the story of teenage cheerleader Meghan, as she is sent to the gay conversion therapy camp True Directions. Here she meets tomboy Graham and the two begin to develop feelings for one another.
The rom-com, which is already a staple to the queer film canon, is now receiving its musical adaptation at Battersea’s Turbine Theatre, where it will run until 16 April. Directed by Tania Azevedo, with book and lyrics by Bill Augustin and music by Andrew Abrams, the adaptation is perfect for both fans of the film and newbies to the story. The show takes some of the funnier scenes word-for-word from the film, while some characters and storylines are given much more development than they are able to have within the parameters of the film’s story.
The venue itself is tiny. Throughout the show, you can hear trains cross above, and if you go to the second last cubicle in the loos before the show, you can hear the cast doing vocal exercises. But once the curtains rise, the cast and the music of the show make you feel as if you are sat in the theatre in New York watching a hit Broadway show. For some of the roles the cast put on the accents the characters have in the film: Australian teenage Hillary, here played by British actress Jodie Steele, is just one example. While this is somewhat of a bizarre choice (her being Australian is not at all relevant to the story), Steele certainly makes it work, seamlessly slipping in and out the accent between roles.
Many cast members play multiple roles, which leads to humorous moments, such as when Hillary appears wearing the hair bow of Meghan’s cheerleading friend Kimberly. Perhaps the sweetest part of this is where Oliver Brooks and Jodie Jacobs play both Meghan’s homophobic conservative parents and the supportive elder gay couple Larry and Lloyd, who become sort-of surrogate parental figures for Meghan for a short while. It feels quite impactful that these roles are played by the same cast members, and it helps to reinforce the idea that while your parents may not accept your identity, there are plenty of people out there who will.
The music is also truly fantastic, varying from emotional slow ballads to upbeat pop numbers, there’s certainly a new favourite song in there for everyone. Dolph’s solo number ‘Wrestling’ packs an emotional punch that will leave some audience members with a tear in their eye, while other songs cover the pressures the characters feel to change and fit into the heteronormative society in which they live. Many of the songs offer deeper insight into many of the characters: for instance, the extremely catchy ‘What If We Were Wrong’ shows the regret and conviction Meghan’s friend and boyfriend feel about their involvement in sending her to True Directions. On the other hand, ‘In A Perfect Little World’ delves into the backstory and mindset of Mary Brown—and with her viewpoints not being that far from some of the homophobic and trans-exclusionary discourse we’ve seen of late, the song definitely leaves an impact.
With such a talented cast it’s hard to say who the real stand-outs are. Alice Croft and Evie Rose Lane are wonderful in the roles of Meghan and Graham respectively, and Steele is as wonderful as ever. Lemeul Knights is a revelation in the role of Mike, one who is, dare I say it, better in the role than the film’s RuPaul. Tiffany Graves brings a great, and strangely nuanced, take to camp leader Mary Brown, while Edward Chitticks’ portrayal of her son Rock is hilarious. Aaron Teoh’s wonderful acting and singing brings further complexities to the role of Dolph, and Damon Gould, Harry Singh and Kia-Paris Walcott all shine in their parts too. With great music and a truly amazing cast, it’s no surprise that But I’m A Cheerleader: The Musical has received many a standing ovation.
Tickets for But I’m A Cheerleader: The Musical can be purchased through Turbine Theatre’s website.
Words by Isobel Pankhurst
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