Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The story originated as a 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers and has been filmed twice by Disney. Katherine (Blickenstaff) is a young widow about to remarry while singlehandedly building a catering business and raising two children, Ellie (Hunton) and Fletcher (Jake Heston Miller, who alternates with Tyler Bowman). It's the day before her wedding to Mike (Alan H Green) and she's trying to oversee the arrangements as a form of self-promotion.
While Katherine is doing her best to control the world, Ellie is frustrated by what she sees as her mother's self-absorption and annoyed with her young brother. She's coping with the everyday challenges of high school, which include a crush on the school dreamboat, a malicious classmate, and a smartphone-powered overnight scavenger hunt that conflicts with her mother's rehearsal dinner. As mother and daughter fight to get through to each other, they magically find themselves trapped in each other's body.
Kitt and Yorkey might seem an odd choice for this lighthearted material, since their best-known work, Next to Normal (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best score), takes a much more serious look at family dynamics and the strained relationship between a mother and a teenage daughter. Don't worry, they've got this as Ellie-as-Katherine tries to convey her mother's confidence and Katherine-as-Ellie is thrust back into adolescence. And Bridget Carpenter's book goes beneath the surface to find unexpected facets in seemingly familiar characters.
Blickenstaff and Hunton, with the assistance of Ashley, carry off the trick of picking up each other's characterizations. As silly as the plot is, it has genuine heart, so the audience accepts as Blickenstaff suddenly can't walk on her unfamiliarly high (to Ellie) heels and Hunton (as Katherine) must restrain herself from talking down to her "classmates." Other standouts are Miller, Jason Gotay as a high school boy who loves both women and sandwiches, and J. Elaine Marcus as Katherine's long-suffering assistant.
The walk-a-mile-in-someone-else's-shoes story is an old one, but Freaky Friday gives it a high gloss, thanks to a director and choreographer with notable Broadway credits and a scenic design (by Beowulf Boritt) that dances almost as much as the performers. Emily Rebholz's costumes add to the characterizations, from a slacker's slouchy hat to a mean girl's exquisitely detailed suit. Conductor Bryan Perri and his eight musicians provide solid support throughout.