One thing that everyone can agree is on is that at some point in your life it feels like your parents just don’t get you. When I was in middle school one of my favorite books was Freaky Friday. And I adored the original Disney film featuring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster. I was excited when I heard that Signature Theatre’s fall season would include a world premiere of Disney’s Freaky Friday, but I had no idea what a scrumptious musical treat was in store.
The classic story of Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers and Walt Disney Motion Pictures gets a modern update with book by Bridget Carpenter, music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. I love the fresh and current feel of the script. The characters truly feel like real people and I love that story has evolved past a simple “life for ____ is hard” and really examines the nuances of finding and maintaining your place in the world. There are a few small flaws such as the discussion of the wedding cake. (Ganache would never hold a pattern like the one displayed on the prop cake.) It may seem like a small detail, but it kind of blows the character’s credibility in food. The dynamic team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next To Normal, If/Then) have created a slew of songs that will stay in your head for days. I’m still singing the catchy and triumphant “Busted” as well the reto-melancholy “Oh, Biology.” The songs truly manage to capture the emotions of being both a frustrated child and frustrated adults with a poignancy that will bring tears to your eyes.
The acting is also superb. Heidi Blickenstaff completely owns every second of stage time, bringing depth, humor and energy that make her performance truly memorable. Emma Hunton did a fine job of displaying both youthful energy and parental wrath. Signature Theatre favorites Bobby Smith (Spin) and Sherri L. Edelen (Cake Off) create a wide and delicious variety of characters throughout the piece. Jake Heston Miller is a delightful combination of wisdom and innocence, as well as hilarious with puppets. Alan H Green was adequate as Mike, not living up to vocal dynamics of his female co-stars. J. Elaine Marcos is a true scene-stealer as Katherine’s beleaguered assistant Torrey.
Freaky Friday is a feast for the eyes as well featuring a whimsical, yet reality-based set design from Beowulf Borritt. Sergio Trujillo’s energetic and emotional choreography will make it hard for you not to tap your toes, especially during “Watch Your Back.”
Director Christopher Ashley helms a production that will be hit with everyone from teens to seniors. While this show does have some script flaws (Ellie’s interaction with Adam in gym class, as well as the aforementioned food terminology issues), but it’s really a great show. Freaky Friday is full of heart, beautiful music, humor and reminder that our bonds of love are always stronger than the differences we have with each other. With all the stress we are facing right now as a country, there’s nothing more refreshing than seeing a show that reminds us that we’re all facing challenges and a little perspective helps you have a lot of compassion.
Freaky Friday succeeds in being a beacon of hope and laughter for all generations, in a season when we need those things desperately!
Kari Liked: I loved this show. Like I want a cast album and a t-shirt, I love it so much!
Kari Didn’t Like: There were a couple of very minor script problems.
Right now Signature Theatre is producing a new take on the classic story Freaky Friday. This world premiere production is surely headed to Broadway and is well on its way there with only a few flaws.
The writing by and large is solid. The dialogue feels relatable, and while there are many substitute and low level swear words, mainly variations on frickin’ , I would still be comfortable taking young audiences to see this Freaky Friday. So it manages to keep the youthful tone without getting too raunchy. There are too many funny and enjoyable moments to even mention included in the script.
This ensemble of actors did an amazing job. Jason Gotay does a great job portraying the teenage love interest Adam as multidimensional and more interesting the longer the play goes on. J Elaine Marcos is hilarious and awesome (especially in one moment at the top of the second act) and adds to the production in a wonderful, but not over intrusive way. Bobby Smith is unrecognizable in his parts and a true treat to watch. Emma Hunton does a great job playing Ellie and is really different after the switch when she is playing her mom in her body. The standout of this show really is Heidi Blickenstaff as Katherine. Heidi is such a blast when she’s actually playing Ellie. She doesn’t condescend to teenagers, but does also show how out of place Ellie would feel inside Katherine’s head. Some of the funniest and most enjoyable moments are brought to us courtesy of Blickenstaff.
Music is the major addition here and it is done well by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (lyrics). The music does feel at times similar to their previous collaboration Next to Normal, but I don’t mind that as that work is very well done. Lyrically, I had a problem with the fascination with people being perfect, and words that may be a little to academic for a first time audience member to catch (let alone be in keeping with the characters themselves). Other than that, the lyrics were great. I haven’t been able to stop singing “I Got This” since we left the theatre. “Oh, Biology” is an unexpected, thought provoking treatise on heart versus hormones that was just incredible. “Women and Sandwiches” could be the deeper dude than you would imagine song of our age. I really loved it and found it highly relatable. In the second act “Go” is a fun romp through Chicago and features great choreography from Sergio Trujillo, fresh of his Broadway hit On Your Feet! His inclusion of a hoverboard in this number really makes the show feel of the moment.
That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with Freaky Friday. There are big plot problems in the song “Watch Your Back” where Ellie does two things in particular that don’t make any sense to force along some conflict for the teenage world. But overall, it’s an incredibly enjoyable show and it’s one I wish I could go back and see again and again.
RJ Liked: The music and the characterization. And Heidi Blickenstaff’s performance never had a sour note.
RJ Didn’t Like: What bugged me most were the moments in “Watch Your Back” that forced conflict into the plot that didn’t feel natural.
Hurry and get your tickets now for Freaky Friday (playing now through November 20th)- you don’t want to miss it. Click here for more information.
(We received complimentary media tickets for this performance, all opinions are our own.)