Remember when we were kids and every time our wants were frustrated by mom or someone else, our thoughts were “just wait until I’m big!” Yup, all our problems will be solved when we grow up. Of course, now that we are all “big,” most of us would like nothing more than to be able to enjoy the irresponsibility of youth. The delightful musical Freaky Friday tests the notion of trading places as a mother and daughter unwittingly exchange bodies. The show hits all of the right notes, challenging our naiveté about these fantasies. Perhaps we can learn from being in the skin of someone from a different generation, but it could also be a mortifying experience.
Katherine Blake is a single parent with a 16 year old daughter, Ellie. Typical of the teenage years, Ellie blames mom for everything that is wrong in the world and dislikes virtually every thing that mom does and stands for. Especially, she dislikes Katherine’s fiancé Mike. Even though he is attentive and likeable, Ellie sees him as an interloper in place of her father who had died four years previous.
Katherine is a top notch event planner whose own wedding the following day is under consideration as a cover story for a magazine. When she and Ellie break an hourglass that had been a gift from their late beloved, they find they are transmogrified into each other’s body. Needless to say, the focused and fastidious Katherine, with so much on the line, is horrified that the rebellious and undisciplined Ellie is now prancing around in her body on the last day before these historic events. Ellie is none too happy either since mom will cavort with her friends and gain unwanted insights into her life.
Based on Mary Rogers’ 1972 novel of the same name, Freaky Friday’s popularity is validated by the three film versions that have appeared, with each variant tweeking the storyline. This is the first stage musical effort, and award winning playwright Bridget Carpenter’s adaptation is well suited to the theater with integrated subplots and laugh lines throughout. Tom Kitt’s music is tuneful and bouncy in keeping with the musical theater pop idiom, while Brian Yorkey’s lyrics consistently drive the plot and are full of insight and humor.
Except for subscribers, there will be considerable self-selection in the audience for this show – theater goers who are looking for a fun, uplifting experience without the challenge of deep meaning. And they will get that lift with Center Rep’s well-crafted, riotous production.
Leading the cast, Lynda DiVito, sparkles as Katherine, every bit the uptight, driven professional woman who nitpicks every detail and whose expectation of Ellie is that she look and act adult. As fitting as DiVito is in the Katherine role, she is a scream when Ellie is inside Katherine’s body – sloughing off everything that Katherine holds important, jeopardizing her mother’s career and romantic relationship. With the teenager psyche in the mother’s shell, DiVito slouches and sasses with impudence and impunity, not grasping the gravity of being an accountable adult. Olivia Jane Mell is the counterpoint as Ellie, and she does a fine job as well, though her part is not quite as juicy. Both women light up the bright score of quippy numbers, especially the signature songs “Just One Day” about wishing for different things than you have and “I Got This” about how easy it should be to act as a person you’re not.
Incidentally, while Freaky Friday will be appreciated as entertaining fluff, it doesn’t hurt that the script surfaces many issues of generational differences, family dynamics, and values. Director Jeff Collister pulls together all of the pieces of the production into a vibrant whole. Brightly colored costumes (Victoria Livingston-Hall) and stage elements (Kelly James Tighe) match the mood of the piece, while peppy choreography (Jennifer Perry), dynamic lighting (Kurt Landisman) and frequent movement of rolling set pieces provide energy. Most of the supporting parts are very well acted, but there is some unevenness in performances and execution of the dance numbers. But for those looking for this type of upbeat family fare, these minor glitches should no way upset the enjoyment of the show.
Freaky Friday with book by Bridget Carpenter, music by Tom Kitt, and lyrics by Brian Yorkey is produced by Center Repertory Company and plays at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1600 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA, through June 30, 2018.