Most people are familiar with some version of Freaky Friday. Whether it’s the original 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers, the 1976 film, or the 2003 film, most know the story of the mother and daughter who magically switch bodies and, by extension, lives, and, in the process, learn to truly love and value one another. And, whether you’re a longtime fan of this beloved tale or unfamiliar with it, Disney’s musical version, aptly titled Freaky Friday The Musical, is a great way to experience or re-experience the charming story. Onstage now at North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre, under the direction of Scott Winton Wray, this latest re-imagining proves that there’s still a lot to love about Freaky Friday.
The show opens by thrusting viewers into the chaotic lives of the Blake family. It’s the day before Katherine Blake (Elizabeth Hankla), the family’s matriarch, is to be married, and she’s more than a little stressed. Teen daughter Ellie (Averi Zimmerman) narrates the whole thing, giving her own spin on her mother’s nit-picky, controlling behavior. There’s also an annoying little brother, Fletcher (Ben Jones) thrown into the mix, a hot guy named Adam (Camden Trimmer) for Ellie to obsess over, and an upcoming scavenger hunt that Ellie wishes she could attend instead of her mom’s rehearsal dinner.
With all the details laid out by the end of the largescale opening number, “Just One Day,” which is powerfully delivered by Zimmerman, the script launches quickly into its trajectory. And, though the magical “big switch” moment happens quickly, smooth writing keeps it from feeling too soon. Plus, it’s what everybody wants to see anyway! Wray seems to understand this fact, as he utilizes cool effects, like flashing lights and trippy sounds, to highlight and intensify the switch.
Once it happens, Zimmerman and Hankla seamlessly and expertly transition into their new roles. Zimmerman leaves behind Ellie’s sulky posture and propensity for whining, stepping easily into a more upright, more prim and proper portrayal. Likewise, Hankla has no problem acting like a mischievous teen. In fact, she seems to be having a blast with the role, adding in plenty of carefully-placed smirks and eyerolls. That enthusiasm shines through, adding a special energy and exuberance to her characterization.
These two female leads are the strongest in the cast- and rightfully so. With powerful voices, a penchant for comedy, and the ability to display just the right hints of emotion, both women excel. It also doesn’t hurt that Zimmerman is a dead ringer for Lindsay Lohan, a fact which fans of the 2003 film will appreciate.
As the mother/daughter duo scramble to find a way back into their bodies, they also have to contend with Ellie's feelings about her father's death and about her stepfather-to-be, portrayed sweetly by an instantly likeable Greg Toft. Then, there's a persistent reporter from Weddings Magazine, played by a perky Amanda Jane Axelrod, who also deftly tackles other roles, including that of a hilariously deranged gym teacher. And, on top of that, there are hormones to contend with as well, all courtesy of Adam, whom Trimmer plays with a relaxed, easygoing air. A funny chorus even appears to sing out his name, adding lots of laughs in a show already filled with them.
In fact, all around, this is a light, feel-good show that’s full of fun and youthful energy-, exactly the kind of thing people want and need right now. Complete with playful, eye-catching choreography from Jess Barbour and a fun, retro set by Thomas Mauney that features colored panels, some of which open and close, the show feels very professional and polished.
And, most importantly of all, it’s got a lot of heart and is a story everyone who has been a kid or a parent can connect with. That must be the secret for why it’s been around so long and seen so many versions. But, the latest, greatest version is the one right here, right now at NRACT.
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