October 28, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
It was a major coup for Disney Theatrical Productions to select Signature as the off-off Broadway theater to debut Freaky Friday – its latest film-to-stage production. We all know how well Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and High School Musical fared. And need I mention Newsies? Just a few of the wildly successful shows Disney has produced for Broadway.
And now there’s Disney’s Freaky Friday from the film of the same name. You might recall the first film version in 1976. Based on the novel by Mary Rodgers, it starred the adorable Jody Foster as the daughter and Barbara Harris as her mother. A later version in 2003 had the ever-talented Jaimie Lee Curtis and then-charming Lindsay Lohan (pre-scandal) as the mother/daughter duo. It opened with the bubble gum tune “So Happy Together” by The Turtles, that morphed into a heavy metal version as the credits started to roll.
The success of these earlier films based on an overworked mother and her teen daughter that magically switch roles, must have been on the minds of Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights), who wrote the book for this musical comedy, Lyricist Brian Yorkey and Composer Tom Kitt, who believed the material could translate into a major musical. Because it does, and we are treated to an engaging and heartwarming musical that was just waiting in the wings to be launched to stardom.
Christopher Ashley (Memphis, Xanadu, Rocky Horror Show) directs this smashing world premiere production that is already scheduled for theaters around the country. What’s not to like about a Broadway-alum studded cast and production team, slickly engineered choreography by Sergio Trujillo (2016 Tony Award nominee for Broadway’s On Your Feet), and a Kitt/Yorkey (Tony Award-winners for Next To Normal) score that will have you humming the tunes before you exit the theatre? This show has smash hit written all over it.
If you remember the quirky premise, single-mom-with-issues Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff) and her feisty daughter Ellie (Emma Hunton) magically switch roles for a day. Katherine, who is about to marry the adoring Mike (Alan H Green) wants to shed the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting an angst-filled teen, and Ellie has had it with the restrictions and emotional upheavals of being a high schooler with a helicopter mom. When the roles are switched and Katherine takes Ellie’s place, she experiences the day-to-day bullying and body shaming her daughter endures and Ellie sees the daily grind of raising kids without a father.
It’s nearly impossible to single out one or two cast members for recognition, as this ensemble is seamless. But aside from the above mentioned leads, J.Elaine Marcos as Torrey, Katherine’s long-suffering assistant, Storm Lever as Savannah the bully, Jason Gotay as Ellie’s boyfriend, Adam, and Jake Heston Miller (who we raved about in this year’s Oliver at Arena Stage) as her brother Fletcher, are outstanding. Fans of Signature will be delighted to see stage veterans, Sherri L. Edelen and Bobby Smith, each with a trio of roles.
Eighteen glorious numbers, backed by Conductor Bryan Perri’s nine-piece band, fill the two acts, giving us a diverse score of touching ballads, 50’s rock styles and Latin beats sung by a cast whose voices are beyond flawless. And a huge nod to noted Costume Designer, Emily Rebholtz, who perfectly captures and blends the funky-cool energy of teen styles.
Highly recommended. Run to the box office for this one and be sure to bring the kids. You can say you saw it before it hit the big time.
Through November 20th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.