Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Bring It On: The Musical

Devon Frieder Productions at Musical Theatre Southwest
Review by Dean Yannias


Evie Long, Trey Caperton, Jasmine K. Bernard,
Kiersten Johnson, Devon Frieder, and Rikki Carroll

Photo by Starr Guajardo
Ah, youth! The energy, the exuberance, the stamina, the back flips! Even if you're several decades removed from your teen years, seeing this show is like taking a deep drink from the Fountain of Youth. It's so exhilarating, you'll feel like you're a kid again.

A movie about cheerleading called Bring It On came out in the year 2000. It was moderately successful, and caught on with a certain demographic, spawning five sequels (all of them straight-to-video, though). Then, in the recent theatrical modus operandi of taking a popular movie and turning it into a musical, Bring It On: The Musical opened in Atlanta in 2011, went on a national tour, and then made it to Broadway in 2012. The witty book by Jeff Whitty (sorry, I couldn't resist) is still about cheerleaders and a conflict between the squad at a white high school and the crew at an inner city school, but the plot of the musical is quite different from the movie and probably an improvement. The score is by Tom Kitt (music), Amanda Green (lyrics), and the now famous Lin-Manuel Miranda (music and lyrics), between In the Heights and Hamilton.

I had forgotten all about this show, but luckily Devon Frieder didn't, and so we have what may be the New Mexico premiere. Devon, originally from New Mexico but now living in New York, comes back every January to put on a musical that other theaters in town are not likely to produce. Every one of her shows that I've seen has been a delight, but I think this one tops them all.

Devon produces, directs, choreographs, and stars in all of her shows (talk about stamina!). Every year, she assembles a cast of very talented young musical theatre performers, and every year I think: Where did these kids come from? I didn't know we had so much talent in Albuquerque. They're almost all local, in their teens or twenties. This year, Devon really put them through their paces, because not only did they have to learn the typical numbers you find in musicals, they have to do cheer routines as well. (And did you know that cheerleading has the highest number of injuries of any high school or college sport? So far, everybody in this show seems unscathed.)

It's amazing that this show was put together in about a month and is carried off so well by all involved. There's not much of a set, but it isn't missed, and its absence allows more room for the dancing and cheerleading. The costumes by Diane Baca are terrific and the lighting by Ben Kesselring and Sarah Kesselring is fine. Julian Griego and Tanner Sroufe do a great job stage managing the cast of 23.

I don't even know where to begin with the accolades for the performers, since every single one of them is wonderful. The members of the ensemble are almost always overlooked in reviews, but for this show they really deserve to have their names in print, so here they are, alphabetically: Kale Brown, Jessica King, Celestina Lopez, Justine Saugen, Spencer Christian Scott, Sarah Serna, Jake Sheets, Weston Simons, Jaimasan Sutton, Maura Talley, and Daniel Wright.

This is an equitable show, in that each of the leads gets a showcase number or two. Devon Frieder is on stage almost the entire time and, as always, sings, dances, and acts superbly. Also from the white school are Rikki Carroll and Kiersten Johnson as Skylar and Kylar, hilarious in their insipidity, and Veronica Baca, who plays the villain perfectly. Bradley Fuller is terrific as the doltish Steven, and boy, can he do back flips.

From the other side of the tracks, the triumvirate of Danielle, Nautica, and the drag role of La Cienega (you can tell this is a Los Angeles story by that name) are played excellently by Jasmine K. Bernard, Evie Long, and, on opening night, the fabulous Jonté Culpepper, who came back to New Mexico from New York just for this one performance. (The rest of the run, the role will be played by Trey Caperton, who should be thoroughly entertaining as well.) Also returning to New Mexico from New York is Rodrigo M. Zaragoza, who has been stellar in other roles I've seen him in; he's excellent here as well, but the part isn't big enough for him to demonstrate what he's capable of. Rachel Blount shines as the doesn't-know-where-she-fits-in-at-either-school Bridget, and Jaaziah Vallano is hip-hop suave as Twig, the guy who crushes on her. Congratulations to all.

Even though it's only January, I have a feeling that Bring It On is going to be a contender for the top of my list of the most enjoyable shows of 2019. It's here for only a short run. Don't miss it.

Bring It On: The Musical, Through January 20, 2019, by Devon Frieder Productions at Musical Theatre Southwest, 6320 Domingo Road NE, Albuquerque AZ (between Central and Copper, and just east of San Pedro). Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. Tickets at www.musicaltheatresw.com/.


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