Cheering Section

There have been rumblings about how the creative team for the adaptation of Jack Heifner and David Kirshenbaum's musical adaptation of Heifner's 1976 off-Broadway hit – of the same title – have been feverishly changing elements. For example, the intermission that existed in previews has now been removed. This leaves the event to dramatize an unbroken sequence of scenes from 1963 through 1990, showing the coming of age, and aging, of three Texas high school cheerleaders (Lauren Kennedy, Sarah Stiles and Anneliese van der Pol). I won't even try to predict its odds of success on Broadway, where it's slated to transfer in February, 2009. There's some tension in style between the considerable dialogue, reflecting the work's stage-play origins, and Kirshenbaum's perfectly pleasant, melodic songs, which to mind bring the gentle pop stylings of Dionne Warwick. The scenes are often so strong that the reason for a character bursting into song appears contrived, though the songs – perfectly executed by the band and actors, under Judith Ivey's nicely honed direction – are lovely on their own terms. Starting with the trivia of what seem to three teenage women to be the monumental concerns of a cheerleading squad, the trio is at the outset fused at the hip, incurious about any world larger than their campus while being intoxicated by their own appearance, status and popularity. (When the announcement of JFK's assassination comes over a loudspeaker, one of them, perplexed, can't imagine how the president of the student body could have been shot in Dallas when she just saw him in algebra class.) However, the costs of that insularity are precisely what the work studies, as the women – each buffeted by the shifting eras – grow apart and individuated. Betrayals and transformative off-stage events get revealed, and the play emerges as a musical chick-flick convergence of Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart and Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year – somewhere between the portrait of changing times and a soap opera. The original play ended its character study in 1974 – two years before it opened off-Broadway at the Chelsea Westside Theater Center. The musical, however, extends that frame to 1990 – obviously a strategy to prevent a new musical from being an antique curio at birth – and possibly because we haven't undergone any seismic shift of values since the Reagan era. Heifner's biggest change, however, is an attitude shift from ennui to the romantic gush of three gals enduring the winds of time and betrayal by sticking together. In a recent interview, Heifner said he was no longer cynical. Sure, this country has had such a bout of good news lately. Perhaps he had his eye on 42nd Street when he said it.
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 30, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m. Starts: Aug. 29. Continues through Sept. 28, 2008