Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Freaky Friday
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Who's Tommy and The Year of Magical Thinking

Emma Hunton and Heidi Blickenstaff
Photo by Margot Schulman
Freaky Friday is proof that "commercial theater" doesn't have to be a dismissive term. This sweet, family-friendly musical receiving its world premiere at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, may have originated in the Disney factory, but it's uncommonly well done with polished direction by Christopher Ashley, fun choreography by Sergio Trujillo, an infectiously tuneful pop score by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (lyrics) and, especially, Heidi Blickenstaff and Emma Hunton as a contentious mother and daughter whose worlds get shaken up one fateful Friday.

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.

Signature Theatre
Freaky Friday
October 4th - November 20th, 2016
Produced by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions
Book by Bridget Carpenter
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Based on the novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers and the Walt Disney motion pictures
Katherine: Heidi Blickenstaff
Ellie: Emma Hunton
Adam: Jason Gotay
Mike: Alan H Green
Fletcher: Jake Heston Miller or Tyler Bowman
Torrey: J. Elaine Marcos
Savannah: Storm Lever
Hannah: Shayna Blass
Gretchen: Katie Ladner
Parker/Ensemble: Thaddeus McCants
Wells/Ensemble: Julian Ramos
Teen Ensemble: Tanisha Moore, Robert Walters
Grandpa George/Biology Teacher/SeƱor O'Brien/Ensemble: Bobby Smith
Grandma Helene/Mrs. Luckenbill/Mrs. Time/Ensemble: Sherri L. Edelen
Journalist/Ms. Meyers/Officer Sitz/Ensemble: Cicily Daniels
Pastor Bruno/Dr. Ehrin/Officer Kowalski/Ensemble: Jason SweetTooth Williams
Dance Captain: Jamie Eacker
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Music supervision by Bryan Perri
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or

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