For nearly a decade, Summer Stock has been a highlight for me each year. Despite the time crunch and the low budget inherent in the program, I’ve rarely seen a subpar show from the company, and so it was absolute delight that their latest production would be my return to the theatre after over a year away; and what a return it was! Bring It On is a vibrant production with smart direction from Summer Stock co-founder Ginger Morris and her team, which, like so many of Summer Stock’s best productions, knows that its most useful capital is its talented cast, and utilizes each of its performers to their best, pulling amazing performance from each, thereby elevating the cast as a whole.
One of the highlights of Summer Stock every year is getting to check in with talented high school and college students who return, and in Bring it On, it’s a delight to see Hannah Roberts back at center stage again. Her take on Wednesday in Addams Family was a delight, and here she shows even further improvement as Campbell, a character who spends almost the entirety of the play on stage, carrying much of the action of her shoulders. The music in Bring It On, especially in the early stages, can also fall on to the more complicated side, and Robert’s ability to shape these melodically and structurally complicated compositions is nothing short of awe-worthy. She keeps all of this up while also showcasing careful character work, never breaking face and keeping that spunky but headstrong attitude until the play’s final curtain call.
There are certain performers that demand your attention the moment they appear on stage. Before she says her first word, or has her own solo-number McKenlee Wilson brings a beguiling energy, and once her main number starts one can tell they’re in for something special. Despite her young age, she shows obvious star potential, having control of her instrument both vocally and physically, landing neither a step nor note out of place. She also shows amazing chemistry with her co-leads, playing both her disgust and delight with care, her performance even helping to fill in a few narrative holes the musical creates. It obvious why her character Danielle would rule the school, as Wilson carries a presence that you simply can’t ignore.
One obvious star coming out of Bring It On is Rebekah Freeland as the dorky, but lovable Bridget. Combining amazing comedic timing with real sensitivity, she creates a truly captivating performance. She carries her humorous notes with gusto, tackling her role with a raw physicality that brings on plenty of laughs, but when the time comes for her to explore the emotional dimensions of the character, diving deep into the self-consciousness and doubts that lurk within the darker parts of so many teenagers, she becomes just as, if not more, charming. The way she keeps this balance in control is laudable, especially as it leads up to one of the show’s most successful numbers “It Ain’t No Thing”, where she’s able to let her freak flag fly with an explosive burst of both musical talent and comedy.
This only dips a toe into the talent pool on display in Bring It On. Scene-stealing performance abound throughout, whether it be the fiery spirit of Christian Patty’s La Cienega; the delicious villainy of Abigal Bensman as antagonist Eva; the grounded likability of Erica Cortina’s Nautica; Sadie Dickerson’s lovable nastiness as frenemy Skylar; or even the astonishing rap game of Andrew Delagarza and Tre Kanaley, who practically carry one of the show’s later numbers. From the leading players, to background dancers, to walk-on extras, everyone gives 150% to the production, creating a living, breathing world, and that’s before mentioning the absolute staggering talent and athleticism of the actual cheerleaders and dance crew members brought in to inject even more believability into the work. Despite an undoubtable time crunch and limited budget, Morris and company have carefully crafted a world bursting with relentless vitality and verisimilitude.
The creators of Summer Stock’s Bring It On seem to have one goal in mind: to keep its audience entertained, and in that, they’ve crafted a truly noteworthy experience. In the final stages of the play, as the room erupts into cheers, its hard not to get taken in by the pure energy surging through the theatre. Even the coldest of hearts will find themselves clapping and shouting along, fired up by the unbridled exuberance of it all. It’s the part of the experience I’ve been missing most since the lockdown, the one thing that only live theatre can give you: that one magic moment of community, of knowing you’re experiencing something that has never happened before, may never happen again, but that will stick in your mind for ages.
“Bring It On” is playing through this Sunday, August 1st. For more information, and to buy tickets, visit summerstockaustin.org.
Photo courtesy of Summer Stock Austin.