TR Robertson …From the minute the musical opens until the final scene, “Freaky Friday”, now on stage at the Tony Award-winning La Jolla Playhouse Mandell Weiss Theatre, is a fast paced, fun filled, very funny musical with a great message for all ages. The musical, based on the 1972 novel, Freaky Friday, written by Mary Rodgers and two Walt Disney movies of the same name, spins a one day tale of a mother and daughter who magically switch bodies. The story combines the concepts of seeing life through someone else’s eyes and walking a mile in another person’s shoes. The musical, on stage at the La Jolla Playhouse, sees the reprise of the two lead roles by Broadway veterans Heidi Blickenstaff as Katherine Blake (the mother) and Emma Hunton as Ellie Blake (the daughter), from their debut of the musical at the Signature Theatre in Virginia. . La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley, who directed the Virginia musical, returns to direct the musical in San Diego. Ashley has been at the La Jolla Playhouse since 2007, and prior to this has directed award winning plays and musicals throughout the country.
“Freaky Friday” first appeared on television in 1995, starring Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffman, who switch bodies when they wear magical necklaces on Friday the 13th. In the first Disney movie version, in 1976, Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster switch bodies when they say at the same time, after an argument, “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day”. A remake of the movie in 2003, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, had the two leads switch bodies due to a mysterious fortune cookie. In the current musical, the body switch is caused after an argument the mother and daughter have the day before the mothers impending second marriage, after the death of her first husband, as the mom and daughter grapple over one of the hour glasses the deceased father had given to his daughter Ellie. The hour glass would turn green, symbolically representing anger, jealousy and the second hour glass, later in the play, would turn red as the mother and daughter realized how much they love each other.
This is a high energy musical, taken from a book by Bridget Carpenter with music by Pulitzer Prize winning Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Beautifully staged with sets that flow quickly on and off the stage and a clever use of a series of circular revolving sections of the stage, the cast works through constantly moving dance scenes, choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. The two leads, Blickenstaff and Hunton, both do admirable jobs of playing the reversed roles of mom and daughter. Numerous funny scenes find the daughter (trapped with the mom’s personality) trying to master the complex world of her daughters high school, an unusual scavenger hunt and the life of a teenager; and the mom (trapped with the daughter’s personality) trying to manage the upcoming marriage, the planning of the wedding reception, meeting with a wedding magazine company and keeping the details from her soon to be husband. Heidi Blickenstaff’s facial expressions and body mannerisms, as the daughter, left the sell-out crowd in stiches at times.
A number of songs in the musical stood out, such as the opening number “Just One Day”, “Oh, Biology” set to the dissection of frogs in a biology class, “Parents Lie” as Katherine – as Ellie – tries to explain parents to her brother and “Bring my Baby Brother Home” when brother Fletcher goes missing are just a few of the musical numbers. Chris Ramirez, as Adam, sang one of the more interesting songs from the musical, “Women and Sandwiches”, as he tried to explain the female sex to young Fletcher. Women are, supposedly, like sandwiches because they are “more complicated (sandwiches) than burgers and fries”. Adam leads the teens on an usual scavenger hunt and is Ellie want-to-be boy-friend. Ramirez was making his La Jolla Playhouse debut and also performed one of the more interesting choreographed routines using a blue blinking self-balancing Hoverboard , which he road masterfully on stage weaving in and around the cast during the “Go” scavenger hunt number. Also making his La Jolla Playhouse debut was Jake Heston Miller, as young Fletcher. Miller, as Fletcher, has several humorous scenes using hand puppets to offer his opinions. David Jennings, as Mike the fiancé, is also making his La Jolla Playhouse debut and provided calm in the chaos that flows through the musical. Other strong performances come from Jessie Hooker as Savannah, the school mean-girl and Alet Taylor as Katherine’s stress-out assistant, Torrey.
At the heart of this fun musical are several underlying themes. Love, understanding, family and personal relationships, growing up and “becoming the person you’d never thought you’d be”, enjoying your body image and girl power, dealing with stressful situations, acceptance of others, friendship, dealing with death of a loved one, all are just some of the serious concepts that flow through this musical and all are handled with sincere emotion, humor and resolution. In one scene, the secrets members of families keep from one another is touched on as the mom (in the daughter’s body) finds out she has a tattoo and the daughter (in the mom’s body) finds out she smokes cigarettes. This is a musical that all ages can enjoy as it subtly teaches as well as entertains and is one of most family friendly musicals you can enjoy.
“Freak Friday” will run until March 12 at the Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2010 La Jolla Village Dr. on the UCSD campus. Tickets are available at www.LaJollsPlayhouse.org or call 858-550-1010.