But I’m A Cheerleader the Musical at Turbine Theatre – Review – ★★★★
But I’m a Cheerleader the Musical is a feel-good Sapphic romp, but a little lacking the movie’s sarcastic edge.
Cult queer movie classic But I’m A Cheerleader is reinvented as a high school musical much in the off-West End vein of Heathers, Bring it On, Teenage Dick and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
The story centres around Megan, a popular cheerleader, who is presumed a lesbian by her bible-belt parents and friends and is sent off to gay conversion therapy camp – where, of course, she discovers her true self.
The musical does tread some new ground, and updates the 90s tone of the movie to acknowledge a little more of the spectrum of sexuality – but does little to embrace the B or the T in LGBT, or more complex realities than the binaries of gay or straight.
There are stand-out performances from lead Alice Croft (pictured centre, above) – particularly in the Alanis Morrissette-style ear worm of the song ‘Colours’ – and sublime vocals from Aaron Teoh (2nd from left, above) on his emotional solo song. Lemuel Knights’ soulful take on the ‘camp counsellor with a secret’ role, played by RuPaul in the movie, is wonderful to watch.
The ensemble are supremely talented, full of hi-energy and cheeky moves, but their performance of sexuality seems a little over-performed and one-note.
Saying that, Jodie Steele from ‘Heathers the Musical’ fame is a geeky ball of physical performance excellence, and gives a more sardonic tone (and face) to the proceedings.
The musical does have plenty of L-O-L moments and some unexpected surprises, but doesn’t quite get to the point of the riot grrl energy of the movie. Opting for one too many torch songs and a few ‘so what’ fillers did make the show feel a bit snail-like at times. A bit of tactful editing would help to find the true essence of the story, and would leave things smoother and more impactful.
Nevertheless, the Gen Z audience in this tunnel under Battersea Bridge is ultimately carried away by a celebration of young queer sexuality and acceptance. It all does feel very important in 2022, and 2-4-6-8 boy did the audience appreciate.
Images: Mark Senior