‘Freaky Friday’ plays out in musical

Emma Hunton, left, and Heidi Blickenstaff play the mother-daughter duo in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of "Freaky Friday." Jim Carmody photos
Emma Hunton, left, and Heidi Blickenstaff play the mother-daughter duo in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of “Freaky Friday.” Jim Carmody photos

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal
Special to The Village News

Time is running out to see “Freaky Friday,” the Broadway quality musical playing at the La Jolla Playhouse until March 19. It’s the ultimate theatrical experience.

It is the story of an overworked single mother bumping heads with her underachieving teenage daughter. During the heat of an argument, mother and daughter magically swap bodies. And as in all good fairy tales, they only have 24 hours to fix it back.

If they don’t, Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff) will be forced to relive her teenage years while Ellie (Emma Hunton) will be responsible for running the family business and caring for her younger brother, Fletcher (Jake Heston Miller).

Emma Hunton as Ellie/Katherine and Chris Ramirez as Adam are high school students in "Freaky Friday."
Emma Hunton as Ellie/Katherine and Chris Ramirez as Adam are high school students in “Freaky Friday.”

The truth rings clearly when Ellie tells her friends, “when they hear me talk, they think I’m talking back.”  Or during biology class, Ellie (while switched with her mother) now sings if only my “grown up brain could control my teenage parts.”

“Freaky Friday” is an adaptation of an award-winning children’s novel written by Mary Rodgers in 1972. She is the daughter of the esteemed composer Richard Rodgers. The story is about conflicts that often arise between mothers and daughters.

In 1976, Rodgers wrote the screenplay for the first Disney movie starring Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris premiering the following year. The second “Freaky Friday” film came out in 2003 with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Now it is a musical. Disney contracted Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights) to write the book along with Broadway composer-lyricist team, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. This work is current, contemporary and comical.

The story is brought to life by a remarkably talented cast of professionals – many of whom appeared in the premier production at the Tony Award winning Signature Theatre near Washington, D.C. and now in the West Coast premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse. They include Hunton (Ellie), Blickenstaff (Katherine), Heston Miller (Fletcher), Chris Ramirez (Adam) and Julian Ramos (Wells).

The outstanding supporting cast features Alet Taylor (Torrey), Jason SweetTooth Williams (Pastor Bruno), Storm Lever (teen ensemble), Tony Neidenbach (teen ensemble), Eean Cochran (Parker), Jeannette Bayardelle (Ms. Meyers), David Jennings (Mike), Joseph Dellger (grandpa George), Mary Jo McConnell (grandma Helene), Sumi Yu (Hannah), Jessie Hooker (Savannah) and the two swings Katie Banville and Jermaine R. Rembert.

Christopher Ashley, as artistic director for both the Signature and La Jolla productions, also worked with Mary Rodgers in 1972, when she was adapting her novel into a musical production for young audiences just after he graduated from Yale.

The setting is outside Chicago – present day. Acclaimed choreographer Sergio Trujillo created masterful use of the stage especially when Adam (Chris Ramirez) skirts across, around and through the set on a balancing scooter while singing and acting. It is amazing.

From left, Jeannette Bayardelle, Alet Taylor and Heidi Blickenstaff play out a scene in "Freaky Friday."
From left, Jeannette Bayardelle, Alet Taylor and Heidi Blickenstaff play out a scene in “Freaky Friday.”

Other highlights included the musical arrangements by Carmel Dean and Tom Kitt set to life by musical director Andrew Graham and musical supervisor Bryan Perri. Clever set designs by Beowulf Boritt with creative lighting designs by Howell Binley transitioned flawlessly between scenes.

Hair and makeup by Leah Loukas and contemporary costumes designed Emily Rebholz were spot on. And the sound designers Kai Harada and Brian Ronan are to be congratulated for balancing the sound to perfection.  Every word was understood.

“Freaky Friday” is a musical comedy in production until March 19 at the La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive on UCSD campus at the Revelle College entrance.

Show times are Tuesday and Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.;  Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m.  Tickets are available at www.lajollaplayhouse.org or the Box Office, (858) 550-1010.

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