WHAT PEOPLE SAID
— Tom Solberg, ACHS Teacher
"It was the best I’ve seen in my 20 years in the district."
American Canyon brings it home in ‘Bring It On’
By Terry Bernal
The Technicolor Daily
When Summer Heartt, director of the American Canyon High School spring production of “Bring It On,” addressed the audience during Saturday’s intermission, she thanked all the parents in the house for trusting her with their children.
It is clear the over 50 students of the ensemble cast are in extraordinary hands.
“Bring It On” is a challenging production — an adaptation of the Kirsten Dunst film of the same name, with a score composed by Tom Kitt and “Hamilton” innovator Lin-Manuel Miranda — and while high school productions can often be a roll of the dice, one thing is certain: Heartt is committed to challenging her students.
Lead actress Noelle Moore is a fitting casting choice as Campbell Davis, who opens the show under a solo spotlight praying to be named head cheerleader for her upcoming senior year at the seemingly suburban Shangri-La of Truman High. The white-hot spotlight foreshadows the story’s focus on Campbell, through which Moore faces the supreme challenge of working to find her own voice.
Moore doesn’t project like a natural lead. But she doesn’t have to as her natural lilt is what wins the day. With this, she delivers a vulnerability that complements her story arc of going from a popular kid at a chic, uptown high school to being redistricted — a word that proves too complex for her character to pronounce — to the inner-city campus of Jackson High, a school that does not even have a cheerleading squad, where she suddenly finds herself the outcast.
Casting to type is essential to the script, which often ridicules Campbell for being a “white girl,” and relies on a contrast of the predominantly white Truman High and ethnically diverse Jackson. To traverse the sensitive topic, the casting tackles the typecasting head-on, and delivers a lush realism to both settings. Balancing the tension are the four featured couples, each cast interracially, a dynamic Heartt said she was intent on fulfilling.
In the Jackson cast is where the depth of American Canyon’s talent emerges. Supporting actress Taylor Buono delivers an enchanting performance as the comic relief of Bridget, going from Truman’s school mascot to finding immediate acceptance at Jackson, as well as a place on the school’s dance crew.
Gianna Rochelle Valencia as the dance crew’s captain Danielle is the most natural performer onstage. She is radiantly expressive in portraying the thick-skinned alpha presence. With Valencia’s ability to react to her co-stars, with big outward gusto — this belying her exceptionally slight stature — and a talent for dexterity in her facial expressions, the show absolutely comes to life midway through the first act. Her vocal work on “We Ain’t No Cheerleaders” emerges as one of the finest female leads of the show.
Remarkably Valencia fluidly establishes a persona that strikes a balance with Danielle’s right-hand woman, La Cienega, a transgender character who otherwise would have stolen the show with a wonderful portrayal by Antonio Lee, a recent American Canyon graduate who returned specifically to perform the role.
The cast shines near the end of the first act on the ensemble performance of “Friday Night, Jackson,” a rhythmic number complete with a tight chorus of syncopated handclapping and leg drumming. And a featured solo by Campbell’s love interest, Randall, portrayed by Joseph “Jojo Angel” Tate, proves the most intriguing voice in the show, in which he revels in the second act with a rousing solo number “Enjoy the Trip.”
Tate is another in a veritable chorus line of talent pushing Moore, who proves up to the challenge, tapping into her natural singing ability as the story progresses at breakneck speed. As the relationship between Campbell and Danielle ebbs and flows through the formation of a formal cheerleading squad at Jackson, the two must ultimately overcome a rift. And it is here Moore especially shines in delivering a duet with Valencia on the emotional ballad “We’re Not Done,” with the two standing toe-to-toe, hashing out their rivalry/friendship, capturing lightning in a bottle by voicing the prevailing theme of the show.
As the two affirm an alliance to take on Truman’s cheerleaders in a national competition, the choreography and dance performances in the finale “Legendary” bring the show home. With the scene based on an elite competition, not only does the choreography have to be advanced in order to be convincing, the execution of it must be flawless.
In order to achieve this effect, choreography staff Celine Brace and Amber McIntyre, along with a crew of four student choreographers, enlisted 10 actual American Canyon cheerleaders to bring the number performing in the dance ensemble to nearly 30. And several of these dancers, highlighted by the fiery one-handed cartwheels of Essence Hardiman, electrify the audience in the closing scene.
There were moments of the Saturday performance when the audience was compelled to clap along, if only doing so intermittently. The show calls for more raucous audience engagement than this, but the tepid reaction seemed more a reflection of a typical high school crowd being uncomfortable with participating. Judging by the number of people dancing in their seats and tapping a foot to the beat, there were certainly plenty wanting to “Bring It On.”
With the Saturday show playing to a near full house, and Sunday’s finale matinee sold out, it seems fair to demand a command performance. Impossible considering the constraints of a high school schedule? Maybe. Whether or not a reality, though, American Canyon’s foray into musical theater (it’s just the second musical ever performed by the Napa County school) certainly deserves the encore.
Alright, on to the countdown. In honor of the success of ACHS’s spring production of “Bring It On,” today we count down the top ten fictional cheerleaders of film and television. And, of course, no Summer story would be complete without a chorus of, sing it with me 10-ers, Sum-mer! Beck! Uh-huh! Uh-huh!
10 ~ Savannah Monroe (Ashley Tisdale) – Hellcats (2010-11)
9 ~ Bonnie Rockwaller (Kirsten Storms) – Kim Possible (2002-07)
8 ~ Diane Weston (Marley Shelton) – Sugar & Spice (2001)
7 ~ Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Amber Thiessen) – Saved by the Bell (1989-92)
6 ~ Darcy Sears (Ali Larter) – Varsity Blues (1999)
5 ~ Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) – Heroes (2006-10)
4 ~ Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
3 ~ Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) – American Beauty (1999)
2 ~ Brittany Pierce (Heather Morris) – Glee (2009-15)
1 ~ Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) – Bring It On (2000)
we’ll be fine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wvg4uXhuo8
fine, fine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M7KpjTtdyI