By Sara G. Stephens
If you have a kid, especially a teen, see this show. If you have a parent, whatever your age, see this show.
I saw the matinee performance of “Freaky Friday” at the Alley Theatre on Sunday with my tween daughter and her friend. Each of us reeled with the dizzying display of powerhouse performances by the entire cast. Each of us was captivated by the all-too-familiar internal conflicts with which each character struggled, all conveyed with spot-on sensitivity to the discomfort, the joy, the self-doubt, and the humor that those conflicts can stir in parents and their children alike.
Having seen both versions of Disney’s film presentations of “Freaky Friday,” I entered the theatre expecting to chuckle occasionally, but never dreaming to hear myself guffaw repeatedly. I anticipated nodding to myself during the poignant moment when mother and daughter see each other as individuals, not as stereotypes, but I never anticipated dabbing at tears, sometimes wiping a few that streamed willfully down my cheeks, during several brilliantly acted moments of bewildered self-discovery and mutual appreciation.
These scenes were performed by an outstanding cast, most notably Heidi Blickenstaff and Emma Hunton. Hunton plays Ellie, a 16-year-old girl struggling with the typical ailments of a teenager: self-confidence, a crush, and her mother’s remarriage. Blickenstaff plays Ellie’s mother, Katherine, a single mom balancing the demands of raising her two kids and running her own catering business.
Ellie sees her mother as a bossy, uptight, and unreasonable perfectionist who has no clue what her teen’s going through. Katherine sees her daughter as an unfocused child who refuses to live up to her potential.
During a heated disagreement, and with the help of a “magic” hourglass, the two characters switch bodies, with Ellie occupying her mother’s body and vice versa. And here’s where the amazing stuff really starts to happen. From their initial exchanges upon realizing the switch has happened, leading to the catchy musical number, “I Got This,” it became immediately apparent that Hunton was going to make a strongly convincing middle-aged mom adjusting to a teen’s world and that Blickenstaff was going to absolutely slay the role of a dry-witted teen stumbling through her mom’s daily responsibilities. With every strategic cock of her brow and defiant stomp of her foot, Blickenstaff drew me deeper into a state of Heidi fandom.
Not only can these actors deliver a good line, drawing emotions you had no idea were coming, they also can belt out a song like nobody’s business.
Here’s how I knew I was enjoying a musical whose songs will stand the test of time: I heard “Just One day,” and determined it would be my favorite song in the show. That was until “I Got This” was performed. That was my new favorite. But then “What You Got” was performed, oh, and then “Oh, Biology,” “Busted,” and the lightheartedly insightful “Women and Sandwiches.” Then there was “After All of This and Everything,” with its gift of gripping tears. I was almost frantic with delighted confusion about which piece should take top honors.
When the show broke for intermission, the girls and I noticed a table set up where we could purchase CD’s of a studio cast recording. When the show ended, we headed straight for the table and snatched up a copy. On the way home from the theater, the girls excitedly ripped the plastic wrap off, and we played the CD, singing along to songs the entire way home. The fact that everyone knew the melodies and a surprising number of the lyrics is a true credit to Tom Kitt, who wrote the music, and Brian Yorkey, who wrote the lyrics.
The entire cast worked well together to deliver an outstanding show. Ensemble numbers practically blew the roof off the theatre. Particularly noteworthy performances were given by Chris Ramirez, who played Adam, the object of Ellie’s crush, with an endearing crushworthy tenderness, and Jessie Hooker, who played Savannah, Ellie’s “mean girl” rival, with a magnetic stage presence.
I also give credit to the set design crew, who did an impressive job of developing a set that was creatively effective.. Every piece and prop was conceived with a thoughtful eye toward establishing the setting in a way that was remarkably efficient.
“Freaky Friday” plays now through July 2 at the Alley Theatre’s Hubbard Theatre. Grab the kids, grab the parents, and go. Get ready to laugh, get ready to be amazed, and be sure to pack a tissue or two.
Date: June 2- July 2
BOOK BY BRIDGET CARPENTER
MUSIC BY TOM KITT
LYRICS BY BRIAN YORKEY
BASED ON THE NOVEL BY MARY RODGERS AND THE WALT DISNEY MOTION PICTURES
DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER ASHLEY
CHOREOGRAPHY BY SERGIO TRUJILLO
Suitable for general audiences. (Age 6+)
615 Texas Avenue
Houston, TX 77002