Gregory Haney :: ’Bring It On’s’ transgender cheerleader

by Jim Halterman

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 22, 2011

It's no big surprise to see a popular motion picture make its way into a Broadway musical. It's a formula that has seen its failures ("High Fidelity"), as well as its modest ("Legally Blonde the Musical") and mammoth successes ("The Lion King," "Hairspray"). While it may not have been the most obvious choice, Bring It On, the popular 2000 comedy film about cheerleaders starring Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku and Jesse Bradford, has arrived on stage and is currently touring the country.

Whereas some stage versions of movies follow the film closely in terms of character and plot, Bring It On: The Musical only uses the film as a foundation to create a fun, uplifting, energetic production that is wowing audiences in Los Angeles before heading to other stops around the country.

One of the ensemble of the musical, Gregory Haney, plays La Cienega, a transgender student who befriends newly relocated Campbell (Taylor Louderman) and helps start a cheerleading squad to take the title from Campbell's former team.

Haney not only looks pretty damn hot in La Cienega's bold outfits but the actor (formerly seen in productions of "Wicked" and "Memphis") also has the chance to showcase his acting and singing talents. EDGE's Jim Halterman chatted with Haney just before the show began previews at the Center Theater Group's Ahmanson Theater in downtown Los Angeles.

Just a girl

EDGE: The show sounds like so much fun. Can you talk about how you landed the role of La Cienega?

Gregory Haney: I originally auditioned in LA and then I moved back to New York and they were still looking for the part and so I got invited to another audition for it and I kind of went all out for it. I remember I was at my friend’s house on 44th (in Manhattan) and I walked to 43rd in full costume. I went in and sang and I read and had a little chitchat with all the creatives and that was it. It was less than 20 minutes.

EDGE: In looking at your credits, is this the first transgender role that you’ve done?

Gregory Haney: It was! I have never played a girl.

EDGE: Is La Cienega transitioning woman to man or man to woman?

Gregory Haney: I know in the breakdown of the character before the audition it said transgender woman but I think in the "Bring It On" world she’s just a girl. You don’t ever see her as a boy, she’s not a drag queen...she’s a woman, a girl.

An empowering audition

EDGE: Even just taking that walk to your audition, how did it make you feel? Liberating? Scary?

Gregory Haney: It’s a little empowering. At first, I was like ’Oh my Gosh, people are going to laugh at me or people are going to look at me strangely’ but living in New York you’re not shocked by a lot of things so people just walked by. I walked in and I knew the casting director and she barely recognized me. It helped, actually, to transform just to bring her words into reality.

EDGE: How closely does this musical version follow the story in the film?

Gregory Haney: It goes a completely different direction. People go in thinking they’re going to get the movie but they come out going ’That was nothing like what we were expecting!’ I really enjoy that. With the slew of movie musicals that have graced Broadway stages in the last ten years, it’s nice to know I’m in the midst of something that is playing on what the movies are but it’s not the movie at all. We’re our own entity, which I really enjoy.

EDGE: Also, the movie isn’t that old but a lot has changed in society since it came out in 2000, right?

Gregory Haney: Yeah, and I think that’s where my character plays a pivotal role. With all the suicides of gay teenagers it’s bringing to light that no matter who you are and what you want to do you can be happy and that’s my main purpose in the show. You can be fat, skinny, bald, tall, girl, boy, black, blue... it doesn’t matter who you are. As long as you’re happy with you, you’re good, and if anybody isn’t happy with that then they can keep going.

EDGE: Is the musical onstage more comedic or are there also dramatic moments?

Gregory Haney: It plays the gamut. There’s plenty of comedy and some sincere issues that are being talked up like being comfortable in your own skin, staying true to your word and protecting the ones that you love and inviting people into your circle and your life who you trust. Once that trust is broken it’s hard to get it back.

A busy man

EDGE: Does La Cienega have a romance in the show?

Gregory Haney: You’ll have to come see. [laughs]

EDGE: How did you prepare differently for this role as opposed to your work in "Wicked" or "Memphis"?

Gregory Haney: First of all, it’s my first principal role and it’s a change in preparing for anything. Being an ensemble member, you’re the backbone of the show. I think being an ensemble member has really prepared me for principal work because as an ensemble member you can’t just stand there. You have to have a grounded character and a grounded reason why you’re moving from stage left to stage right.

So, using that experience helps you create the character quickly. You’re given the music, the script and you have only so much time to look at it. There are ways you can over think things but I think if you go on your first instinct then it helps to transition of the character to become a three dimensional character. I’ve had some really strong African American women in my life so it’s very easy to pull on their reaction to things or mannerisms or how they stand and walk and the strength they have in that. It really helps to have that little handbag of tricks.

EDGE: Is LA the first top on the tour?

Gregory Haney: It’s our first stop of the new version, the 2.0 version. We did the workshop in New York last year and then we had 2-3 months off and then we went to Atlanta and did the show there for two months and then we had 7 months off and now we’re starting back up and touring the country.

EDGE: I’m guessing you don’t have a lot of time for anything else these days.

Gregory Haney: Not right now. I’m really focusing my energies on this because I really want to give the best shows to the audience that we’ll get to perform for. I do have other projects that I’m doing. I also teach so I’m a busy man.

Bring It On: The Musical continues at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles through December 10th. From December 14-January 7, the show is at Orpheum Theater in San Francisco before heading to the Buell Theater in Denver from January 10-21st. For more dates, visit the musical’s website. For more on Gregory Haney, visit his website.

Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.