There are few surprises in new musical Freaky Friday (). Likely because you’ve already seen some iteration of it: Disney has adapted the Mary Rodgers book three times in four decades.
The well-worn mother-daughter fable seems custom-made for a musical. Years in development, Disney Theatrical Productions eventually decided to forego Broadway, instead partnering with Arlington’s Signature.
Still, it’s helmed by a crew of Broadway’s finest, including Tony-nominated director Christopher Ashley (Memphis), who’s assembled a strong 17-member cast of up-and-coming talent.
You likely know the basics: A bickering mother and daughter break a special heirloom hourglass, which unwittingly causes them to switch bodies. Resigning to their new roles, mother and daughter boast about how easy it will be to adapt in the fetching, hip-hop-inflected “I Got This.” From that moment on, the familiar, fanciful narrative, adapted by Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights), takes a backseat, letting a new driver take the wheel: the music.
Composer Tom Kitt propels the story to new heights with a pop/rock score every bit as catchy as previous hit Next to Normal, developed with Freaky Friday‘s lyricist, Brian Yorkey. Serge Trujillo (Jersey Boys) further enhances things through his signature sassy, expressive choreography. Tying everything together is Beowulf Boritt’s turntable set, which allows for quick and easy transitions between scenes.
The show’s emotional weight is mostly constrained to Act Two, when Kitt and Yorkey concoct a few rousing numbers — the soul-belting crowdpleaser “Bring My Baby (Brother) Home” and two rangy, emotional solos allowing mother and daughter, respectively, to shine.
And that’s another remarkable thing here: Where Kitt and Yorkey’s previous shows were compelling showcases for one central powerhouse diva — Alice Ripley in Next to Normal, Idina Menzel in If/Then — Freaky Friday brings two to the fore. Heidi Blickenstaff as mother Katherine and Emma Hunton as daughter Ellie are equally sensational in their own right, but most noteworthy is how they work together as a team, either duetting or dueling with one another. Blickenstaff and Hunton have clearly spent a lot of time together, cultivating a level of rapport to approximate, at least on stage, that of a real parent and child.
It’s no spoiler to note that the show ends happily, with mother and daughter returning to their rightful bodies at the eleventh hour. And it’s hardly ruinous to acknowledge that Freaky Friday lags a little here and there and is unlikely to be something you’ll want to see repeatedly. But as a sum of its well-crafted parts, it manages to be sweet and touching. Quintessential Disney.
Freaky Friday runs to Nov. 20 in Signature’s Max Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. Tickets are $40 to $108. Call 703-820-9771 or visit signature-theatre.org.
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