Remember when you were a kid and you were convinced that everything would be better when you were an adult? Especially when every adult doesn’t seem to understand how hard it is to be a kid? “Freaky Friday” at the La Jolla Playhouse is an entertaining and upbeat that allows one mother and daughter to see just what living the others’ lives entails and see if that brings a little peace to their household.
Like the Disney movies that proceeded this show, the setup is a strained mother/daughter relationship. The mom Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff) owns and runs her catering company, and has a prominent magazine coming to cover her business and upcoming wedding which will be good for business. Her daughter, Ellie (Emma Hunton) finds high school classes tedious, but she is excited about an upcoming scavenger hunt with her friends and that the hunt is organized by the super cute guy at school.
The cast is very strong, and from the moment the show starts they are all moving at an almost frenetic pace to keep everything moving and the story on track. But this show really shines due to the work and partnership of Blickenstaff and Hunton.
As Ellie (in Katherine the Mom’s body) Hunton can convey the controlled aspects of Katherine’s reserve, and make her reactions to things she discovers about her daughter (skipping classes, hidden Twinkie stashes) both believable and amusing.
As Katherine (in the daughter Ellie’s body) Blickenstaff is able to ramp up the comedy, portraying how this Mom thinks teenagers behave. She keeps everything on just this side of exaggerated, but it’s this balance that really shows how insanely talented a performer she is in this show.
The both shine in their duet numbers, with the Act 2 “Bring my Baby (Brother) Home” showcasing both their voices and how well they perform together.
This lively show is kept at energetically moving along by Director Christopher Ashley, which matches the pop score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. The first scene dives right into setting up the duos dynamic with the song “Just One day” an animated number that ends with the fateful “switch” thanks to a magical hourglass, and doesn’t let up from there.
The music should be pretty familiar to those who know the work of Yorkey and Kitt (NEXT TO NORMAL, IF/THEN) it is big and belty and keeps the energy up with clever lines and humor. While some songs like “Busted” and “What You Got” hit the right notes, others, like “Women and Sandwiches” strive to be funny but end up being falling flat. (Quick note to anyone wondering- women do not want to be compared to sandwiches, not matter how much the guy loves sandwiches. You’re welcome)
To get through all the needed locations and story scenes move quickly between locations; the kitchen, the high school, the wedding reception. All changes ae done quickly and cleanly thanks to the set design by Beowulf Boritt. With a quick twist, the columns go from kitchen cabinet to high school locker, and back again. The use of the turntable also allows some fun movements and adds an extra kick to some of the dance numbers.
This show does have the Disney channel pop and pizazz, and the school scenes do have a bit of a “High School Musical” quality of high energy and enthusiasm. Befitting the source material and its Disney roots, there are a lot of character “types” that are a bit less faceted than they could be. Even the pretty and most popular girl is slightly toned down “mean girl” thanks to the Disney lens.
Always prevalent is the dawning realization of the two main characters that they didn’t really know each other’s lives at all.
In this current climate, messages of how hard parenting and being parented can be, that you should not be ashamed of who you are or your body, and that a little it of empathy can go a long way, are not bad things to reinforce in the world.
“Freaky Friday” is playing at La Jolla Playhouse through March 19th. For show times and ticket information go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org