The New Musical “Freaky Friday” a Funny, Touching, Fast-Paced Sparkling Gem
Cleveland Play House’s current production of the musical “Freaky Friday,” with book by Bridget Carpenter, music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, is a funny, touching, contemporary update of the classic book by Mary Rodgers and the subsequent two classic Disney movies.
When Chicago mother Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff) and daughter Ellie (Emma Hunton) wish upon a magical hourglass, “How I wish you’d understand and see the world my way,” a temporary curse of sorts is placed on the two of them. For the next 24 hours, the two of them swap bodies and live out the life of the other. Naturally, the process is incredibly stressful and yet enlightening as the two are surprised by both the challenges of the other’s life and their own strength under pressure.
“Freaky Friday” doesn’t just swap the bodies of a mother and daughter – it does so on one of the most exciting days of their lives. While Katherine is hosting her wedding rehearsal and plans to marry the kind, wise Mike (David Jennings) in the morning, Ellie pines for teen heartthrob Adam (Tony Neidenbach), who is hosting an epic scavenger hunt in which she hopes to prove herself special in the eyes of her peers.
Blickenstaff and Hunton both display great physicality, precise vocal chops and practiced comic timing. It is satisfying to watch Hunton showcase her amazing pipes in the Janis Joplin-esque “Bring My (Baby) Brother Home,” which segues from uptempo to a poignant, slower ending. Blickenstaff elicits belly laughs looking at in her face in a mirror as seen through the eyes of her daughter, and has a lovely rock quality to her voice à la Pink in “After All of This and Everything.”
The actresses spend just enough time developing their original characters to make the body switch rewarding. We feel Blickenstaff, the awkward teen in a 40-year-old’s body trying to act like an adult, breezing in and finding out that life isn’t that easy, her unease palpable and then her anger bubbling as she feels adult pressures. We feel Hunton, the 40-year-old mom in a teen’s body, trying to over-manage her life when given the chance to be her daughter for a day.
The emotions audiences feel watching “Freaky Friday” are very real and raw, from empathy at Blickenstaff trying to navigate her way through the tortuous adult world she is unprepared to handle, to laughing out loud at some of the awkward moments, to unexpected genuine sadness at a side story involving sweet, creative little brother Fletcher (Tommy Bilczo).
Director Christopher Ashley has assembled a flawless cast and ensemble that exceeds expectations. Scenic Designer Beowulf Boritt allows the focus to be on the acting, singing and choreography through the use of rolling, two-sided set pieces featuring lockers on one side and tasteful pillars on the other, or using a simple kitchen island or bus stop bench for a scene, making for easier set changes. Choreographer Sergio Trujillo brings energetic youth dance numbers (plus P.E. class) and keeps it contemporary, especially by including Neidenbach’s spins on a hover board during “Go.” Music Director Andrew Graham’s orchestra were tight and supportive of the action on stage.
“Freaky Friday” is a fast-paced sparkling gem of a musical full of hummable tunes which can be enjoyed by audiences from tweens through adults. “Freaky Friday” contains some teen themes.
“Freaky Friday” runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays evenings at 7:30 p.m. and matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through May 20th in the Allen Theatre at the Cleveland Play House at Playhouse Square. For tickets, call (216) 241-6000 or (866)546-1353 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.