Last time out, playwright Jeff Whitty put foul-mouthed puppets on stage and won a Tony for Avenue Q. So why go from that to Bring It On: The Musical (currently at Houston's Hobby Center courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars), spun off from the 2000 movie starring Kirsten Dunst? "I wanted to do something that was just pure pure fun, pure entertainment. So cheerleaders really fit the bill," he says. Whitty was never a cheerleader himself. ("No, I can barely run across the room and still be standing." ) He saw a segment on ESPN about cheerleaders, then watched a regional cheer competition. "I was just dazzled."
In the musical, cheerleaders from two schools are competing against each other, one from a more privileged school and the other, not. The cheerleading is complete with some of those risky stunts that dazzled Whitty. "There's a huge emphasis on safety," he says. "They run every single stunt before the show as a sort of warmup. Yes, it's definitely risky, but as I've learned over my years in theater, every show is risky. In Avenue Q we had two sprained ankles in our original run."
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While there's a real respect for the athletic ability the cheerleaders show onstage, that's not to say the treatment in the musical is totally reverent. "We do put a pin in it now and then," he said. "In Bring It On, one of the characters is transgender, and it's been a complete joy writing this character and watching the audience's experience of her because I never discuss it in the show. It's not a point or a political statement; she is just sort of there with everybody else. And the audience responds very very strongly and warmly to her." 8 p.m. January 24. Through February 5. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For a complete schedule, call 713‑558‑8887 or visit www.tuts.com. $24. to $107.50.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Jan. 24. Continues through Feb. 5, 2012