There’s no elite cheerleading squad at hardscrabble Jackson High, but there is a hip-hop crew, and it’s led by smart and assured Danielle, the hardworking high-schooler who slowly warms to the Waspy transplant invading her turf.
Adrienne Warren (as Danielle) and Taylor Louderman (as sugary-sweet Jackson newbie Campbell) lead Broadway’s “Bring It On: The Musical,” loosely based on the 2000 teen film, which tells the story of the offbeat friendships formed through extreme competition, chief among them their own.
Some of the actors in “Bring It On,” including Warren, have learned to cheer and stunt; much of the cast is comprised of cheerleaders who’ve learned to act and sing. Warren, 25, sat down with NBC 4 New York backstage at the St. James Theatre to talk about her star-kissed path to success and those high-flying stunts.
NBC4NY: I liked Danielle, because she’s a kid working nights at a burger joint to get what she wants.
WARREN: She’s disadvantaged, but she’s ambitious. She’s a people person, and it makes sense she’s in front of the Burger Pagoda giving people sandwiches... on the other side of town from school, of course, so nobody from Jackson sees her. It’s the only way she can walk the halls in the best outfits. She gets the money she needs to take care of herself. That’s what I love about her. You get to see where all this ambition and drive is rooted from, her having to do something like that.
NBC4NY: You’re often described as “ambitious,” too. You were the first African-American woman to play “Annie” in regional theater: The Hurrah Players, down in Norfolk, Va.
WARREN: I was 10. There were a couple of days of auditions, they were on local television and it was crazy. I remember I wore the most ridiculous outfit: plaid shorts, and my mom made me wear my hair in pigtails. Lo and behold, they were announcing the winner on TV, and first they called the “Annie” understudy. It was a caucasian girl. And then they announced “Annie” and called my name, and I was confused. I thought it was a joke. My mom started crying, but I was laughing, because I thought it was hysterical. But then I realized what a big deal it was. We had a lot of negative reaction to it, especially that a white girl was my understudy.
NBC4NY: You had to be too young to process that.
WARREN. I was. Jet magazine called. But for every negative call we got, I think we had 90 supporters... The show was great. I had auditioned to be an orphan. There ended up being a plethora of orphans. There were, like, 17.
NBC4NY: You know, “Annie” isn’t supposed to have 17 orphans.
WARREN: I know. But the kids were so good, they were like, “Let’s have all these orphans.”
NBC4NY: You’ve also got this cool history with “Dreamgirls.” You’ve performed in three productions?
WARREN: I played Effie in school, because no one else could sing the material in a public high school. And then, when I was 19, Jennifer Holliday cast me in the 25th anniversary production of it at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Ga. She was playing Effie, and she wanted to cast everybody in the show. She was in charge! I was the youngest person in the cast, and she made a point to let me know, “I don’t work with young people, so don’t let me down!” And I didn’t, thank God. And then I did the revival that started at the Apollo Theater in 2010.
NBC4NY: Your first time at the Apollo. What was that like?
WARREN: I mean, you feel the energy as soon as you walk in the door. To do that iconic show in that building is crazy. My dressing room had a bottle opener connected to the wall from the old days... people would just pop ’em open and throw ’em back. I’m thinking, “This is probably where Michael Jackson chilled out before he went on.”
NBC4NY: To see a show like “Bring It On” is to marvel at the athleticism. You’ve got one big stunt, during “Cross the Line,” when Jackson is at Nationals.
WARREN: It’s an extension, which means I’m standing, the guy’s arms are completely straight and I’m standing on their hands, and then I flip backward and they catch me. It feels like a dance move. It’s terrifying. There’s a fear factor that goes along with cheerleading that can really hold you back if you’re not willing to let it go and trust the people underneath you. You just have to go up in the air and stay as “tight” as you can. That’s the only trick.
NBC4NY: Is it scary every time you do it?
WARREN: There’ve been days where I go up and a guy’s hand slips under my foot and I’m suddenly standing on one foot. It’s crazy, but if you think “Stay in the air,” you’ll stay in the air. They have your back, and if you fall, you just try to fall as gracefully as you can, so you’re not hurting anyone underneath you. If you’re flailing around, it’s going to be a nightmare when you fall down.
NBC4NY: Have you ever fallen?
WARREN: No... It’s the guys. They’re amazing, and I trust them with my life. Clearly.
NBC4NY: If you weren’t on Broadway right now, what would you be doing?
WARREN: I’d be an interior decorator, or trying to get a show on HGTV. My mother, when she hit her 40s, started to redecorate our house and I really got into it with her. She does the handiwork around the house, not my dad. He does the cooking. It’s all backwards. But I helped her a lot. I would see her in the garage with the power tools, and I just thought that was so, for lack of a better word, sexy ... to see a woman with tools doing it on her own. I still have the ambitions one day of creating a woman’s tool line.