Though Sat 5/20
Many know Mary Rodgers as the daughter of Richard Rodgers the composer of such classic musicals as Oklahoma and Carousel. Others are aware that she collaborated on the musicals Once Upon a Mattress and The Mad Show. Some might know that she is the mother of Tony Winner, Adam Guettel (The Light in the Plaza). Ask any tween or teen and they will probably relate that Rodgers wrote the 1972 book, Freaky Friday.
Yes, that Freaky Friday. The one which tells the tale of a mother and daughter switching bodies, which was made into three different Walt Disney films, including one version whose screenplay was actually written by Mary Rodgers, herself.
The musical version of the story, based on the original Rodgers’ book as well as the films, is set in present-time Chicago. It debuted at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia on October 4, 2016, where reviews hailed it as “a polished, peppy, modern fairy tale.” A production was staged at California’s La Jolla Playhouse in 2017, where it had an extended run. Much of that cast is now on stage at Cleveland Play House.
Though there has been no announcement beyond the next venue, Houston’s Alley Theatre, serious consideration should be given to taking the package to Broadway. It’s as good as many of the present Great White Way productions.
The storyline centers on Katherine, the overworked, stressed-out mother of Ellie, a sarcastic, self-involved teenager, who lives life in constant emotional hell. Through a quirk of fate, the duo switches bodies, and then has one day to put things back. Yes, it’s one day before Katherine’s wedding, and both ladies are about to find out what it’s like to live life in the other’s body surrounded by wedding plans, school stresses, a runaway kid, burgeoning love, mistaken identities and the loss of the device which “caused” the biological time switch to take place.
Bolstered by a dynamic pop-rock score, whose recording was released this past February, the stage explodes with farcical humor, mountains of teenage angst and a scavenger hunt that leads to the obvious but fun conclusion. Major songs are “What You Got,” “Oh, Biology,” “Busted,” ”Just One Day,” and “No More Fear.”
The book is by Bridget Carpenter (TV’s Friday Night Lights and Parenthood) with a score by the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning team of Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (lyrics), creators of the celebrated Broadway musicals Next to Normal and If/Then.
The production’s high-quality pedigree continues with a crew highlighted by director Christopher Ashley (Memphis, Xanadu, All Shook Up) and Tony nominee choreographer, Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, On Your Feet!).
Broadway star Heidi Blickenstaff (Something Rotten!, [title of show], The Adams Family, The Little Mermaid, The Full Monty), who displays a big voice and solid acting chops, is dynamic as Katherine. She flips from wrought mom to hyper-driven teen with compelling believability and ease. Her vocal version of “I Got This” is delightful, her “Parents Lie” endearing, and “After All of This and Everything” a vocal winner. This is a star in her element.
Blickenstaff is balanced by big-voiced Emma Hunton, who appeared in Broadway’s Next to Normal and Spring Awakening and reprises the role of Ellie, which she performed at Signature and LaJolle. Hunton is a special talent who is totally believable as the obnoxious teenager turned stressed mom. She has a nice touch with humor and knows how to play for laughs.
Jake Heston Miller comes close to stealing the show as Fletcher, Katherine’s young son and Ellie’s brother. His puppet shenanigans are delightful and line interpretations realistic. His duet “Women and Sandwiches,” sung with Chris Ramirez (Adam) brought gleeful audience reaction. The rest of the quality cast are all prime as singers, dancers and actors.
Much to the delight of the audience, many of whom wondered where the orchestra was hidden as the Allen does not have an orchestra pit, the proficient assembly of musicians got a well-deserved curtain call when the backstage wall disappeared, thanks to scrim (gauze cloth that appears opaque until lit from behind and it becomes translucent), revealing them in their hiding place.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: If you go to the theater for enjoyment, Cleveland Play House’s Freaky Friday is your thing. If you go to the theater to see marvelous talent, in a well-directed, well-conceived show, Freaky Friday is your thing. If you don’t go to theater but have always wondered what a Broadway show is like, Freaky Friday is your thing. Yes, if you don’t go see Freaky Friday you are going to miss out on a special event!
Freaky Friday runs through Sat 5/20 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. (Rumor has it that the production will be adding performances.) For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to clevelandplayhouse.com.
[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]
[Photos by Jim Carmody]