NSMT’s ‘Freaky Friday’ ranks with other Disney hits
BEVERLY – July is the traditional spot for the North Shore Music Theatre’s annual “family musical.”
In the past, owner/producer Bill Hanney has relied on a proven list of family-friendly works, many of which were successful films before they ever became stage successes, such as Disney hits “Beauty and the Beast” and “Mary Poppins.”
This year it’s a little harder sell. Disney’s “Freaky Friday” doesn’t have the cache of a Broadway run or Tony Awards, but it still hits the mark, largely due to the funny, heartfelt, often touching book by Bridget Carpenter, based on the 1973 novel by Mary Rodgers and the two Disney films, and a strong score by composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning writers of the scores for “Next to Normal” and “If/Then.”
“Freaky Friday” has been around for a while, but it has yet to gain the traction of other Disney musicals, but in many ways it belongs up there with them.
The idea of switching bodies or personalities has been around since Rodgers, daughter of composer Richard Rodgers, wrote “Freaky Friday,” which spawned the two aforementioned Disney films, the 1976 family comedy starring Barbara Harris and a young Jodie Foster, and the 2003 remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.
Following in the first film’s footsteps were vehicles such as Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin in All of Me (1984), George Burns and Charlie Schlatter in 18 Again (1988), and Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds in The Change Up (2011).
“Freaky Friday” takes place during the weekend of widowed mother Katherine Blake’s planned second wedding, and the driven Katherine (Laurie Wells) is frantic, supervising each and every detail of the both the rehearsal dinner and the ceremony itself.
Daughter Ellie (Lindsay Joan) isn’t happy at what she feels is being bossed around by her mother, and she is decidedly cool to her mother’s fiancé Mike Riley (Sean Hayden), who is trying just a little too hard to replace her departed father. Hayden is relegated to the role of supportive outsider, a bill he fits nicely.
NSMT regular Jake Ryan Flynn is Fletcher, the younger brother who lets his two arm puppets speak for him, often with hilarious results. He is also still grieving the loss of his father and wondering what the future will bring.
Everyone at Ellie’s school is swept up in ultimate scavenger hunt, led by Adam (a talented Gerald Caesar), the boy that Ellie has a crush on, but her mother has barred her from going.
A pitched mother-daughter battle somehow leads to a tug of war over a mysterious hourglass and – bingo! — the mother and daughter leap into the other’s body, personality and all. When Katherine must become a student and Ellie a wedding planner, the predictable, if often hilarious, chaos ensues.
This production benefits greatly from the skills of its principals in assuming each other’s personalities, which they accomplish with skill and aplomb.
But there is also strong support from many others, most happily from the always-welcome David Coffee, marking his 26th season and 59th appearance in all at NSMT, who sparkles in several supporting roles, the last of which will have you howling. Yes, the applause at his entrance says it all.
There’s also able support from Lindsey Alley, as Torrey, Katherine’s loyal but befuddled and beleaguered assistant.
Kitt and Yorkey’s pop-rock score both spreads the wealth among the various characters and advances the plot line skillfully. “Just One Day” is the recurring theme but everyone gets their chance in the spotlight.
One of the funniest numbers is “Somebody Has Got to Take The Blame” when Ellie, inhabiting her mother’s body, defends her own shortcomings as a student while Katherine as Ellie puts the blame on herself.
Director Gabriel Barre directed the world premiere of “Memphis” at NSMT before it went on to win the Tony for Best Musical and his experience shows itself in staging of the production numbers along with choreography from Jennifer Paulson-Lee.
“Freaky Friday” is being billed as “a new musical.” It has been in development for several years with a number of fully-staged productions, and Hanney decided to take a swing at it when rights became available. It is probably not yet a finished product; it could still stand a bit of a shave and a haircut – about 10-15 minutes less would probably do it.
But as it stands now, it is highly entertaining, funny, with a bouncy pop-rock score, top-notch choreography and music direction and a positive, family-friendly message.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of “Disney’s Freaky Friday.” Book by Bridget Carpenter, based on the novel by Mary Rodgers and the Disney films. Music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Directed by Gabriel Barre. Choreography by Jennifer Paulson-Lee. Set design by Kyle Dixon. Costume design by Kelly Baker. Lighting design by Jose Santiago. Sound design by Daryl Bornstein. Hair and wig design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt. Music direction by Jeffrey Save. At the North Shore Music Theatre through July 21. Nsmt.org.