THEATER REVIEW: “Freaky Friday” @ Lakeland Civic Theatre by Roy Berko

Through Sun 2/17

Freaky Friday is a musical based on the 1972 book by Mary Rodgers. Yes, the daughter of Richard Rodgers, 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-winning composer Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza). Her endearing book was made into 1976 and 2003 films.

As in the book and film version, the storyline centers on Katherine, the overworked, obsessive-compulsive, stressed-out mother of Ellie, a sarcastic, self-involved, angst-driven teenager, who lives life in constant emotional self-imposed “drama queen” 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 women 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.

The musical was produced at the Cleveland Playhouse in April 2017, with Broadway’s Heidi Blickenstaff and Emma Hunton in the lead roles. Of that production, I wrote, “If you don’t go see Freaky Friday, you are going to miss out on a special event.” I wish I could say the same thing for the Lakeland production, but I can’t.

Freaky Friday is a farce. Okay, not a totally well-written one, but it is still a farce. Farces are meant to delight the audience.

Things started well as the psychedelic set designed by Aaron Benson created the right off-kilter mood. The overture and “Just One Day” did a good job of developing the exposition, getting us ready for the “delight” that was supposed to come.

Matthew Dolan and his orchestra did a masterful job of underscoring, rather than drowning out the performers. They played the pop-rock score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey well. (The mediocre score includes “What You Got,” “Oh, Biology,” “Busted,” “Just One Day” and “No More Fear.”)

To make the script display its farcical level requires letting out all the slapstick, overdone physical and humorous stops. This of course is dependent upon the director building in shticks and gimmicks and the cast being able to pull off all the exaggeration, making each character a caricature.

Director Martin Friedman has given us some great theater. His Sondheim productions usually are top-tier and his recent production of The Bridges of Madison County was an award-winner. But somehow Friedman seems to have missed the key to Freaky Friday. The needed cartoon characterizations, emphasis on the ridiculous and creative staging were missing. The performance seemed under-rehearsed and not well thought-out.

The director needed to make his cast aware of the qualities of farce. As is, many acted, rather than reacted, to the material. Preset gestures and fake facial expressions, signs of bad performance, peppered the stage.

In spite of what was going on around her, Trinidad Snider, as has come to be expected from this very talented woman, gave a stellar performance as Katherine/Ellie. Her version of “After All of This and Everything” was beautiful. “Today and Ev’ry Day,” her duet with Alley Massey (Ellie), was nicely done. Massey consistently sang well. Rick McGuigan nicely developed the role of Mike, Katherine’s fiancé.

Jay Lee had the right touch as Adam, the high school hunk whom Ellie lusts after. “Women and Sandwiches” was delightful. Several of the female high school students were on track.

The static and mechanically performed choreography didn’t help much to create the right mood. The same could be said for the costumes, which were often ill-fitting and lacking in the needed visual polish. In one scene, a lead actress came on stage with her dress inside out…label and seams exposed.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Freaky Friday is a farce which should delight an audience. As is, except for the audience member on opening night who thought he was at a football game, and kept loudly cheering “way to go” and “good job” after each song and scene, the production should disappoint many. Too bad!

Freaky Friday runs Friday and Saturdays at 7:30pm and 2pm on Sundays through Sun 2/17 at Lakeland Community College. For tickets call 440-525-7134.

[Written by Roy Berko, member: American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

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