The region premiere of Freaky Friday: A New Musical, staged by Williams Street Rep, currently appears at the Raue Center for the Performing Arts in Crystal Lake.
Based on the hit Disney films and novel by Mary Rodgers, this musical adaptation portrays a day in the life of Katherine, a stressed-out mother, and Ellie, her rebellious and sarcastic teenage daughter, who magically swap bodies when they break an hourglass during a heated argument. Comedy and music ensue, as each experiences the other’s life first-hand, if only for a day.
In pseudo-Freaky Friday fashion, director Kent M. Lewis has teamed up with his daughter, associate director CC Lewis, to bring their shared vision to the stage in her directorial debut.
Carrying the show are Catherine L. Yore and Jordan Nazos in the lead roles of Katherine and Ellie Blake. Yore, who starts out as mom Katherine, effortlessly slips into the slouchy, fidgety mannerisms of a bored and angry teenager to play Ellie—while Nazos, who starts out as Ellie, manages the reverse trick of credibly portraying the sensibility of a middle-aged woman. The comedic contrasts between their characters are heightened when Yore and Nazos appear together, making their scenes together some of the best in the show.
Although the story has been updated for contemporary audiences by Bridget Carpenter (Parenthood), the real core of this adaptation is in the original pop/rock score by Tom Kitt, with lyrics by Brian Yorkey (both Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winners).
Musical director Evan Swanson does the score justice. The catchy hooks of big ensemble numbers like “Just One Day,” “Busted,” and” Oh, Biology” stick in your head, while the emotional ballads, “Parents Lie,” and “Bring My Baby (Brother) Home,” both beautifully delivered by Yore, stick in your heart.
The large and energetic ensemble, most of whom play high school students or teachers, bring a lot of physical charisma to the show and to the choreography of Natalie Wisdom. They sing, they dance, and in one scene they even hula-hoop—all in spectacular fashion. An extended slow-motion sequence featuring Nazos and several other characters is particularly well-done and fascinating to watch.
While there’s much to enjoy in this production, there are some missed opportunities in its direction as well. Although Nazos adeptly portrays an older persona in a young body, the idea of “mom” is not expressed as clearly, which seems like a missed comedic and dramatic opportunity. Also, some of the supporting performances of the ensemble veer too far toward caricature, making the overall tone of the production uneven at times.
Yet these minor criticisms do not do much to diminish from the fun of watching this show. Most of us have probably wondered what it is like to be someone else, but I am not sure how many of us would really want to swap places with our mothers (no matter how much we love them). That is one of the reasons Freaky Friday is so entertaining, and potentially compelling, to watch.