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A CurtainUp DC Review
Based on the book of same title by Mary Rodgers (composer Richard Rodgers's daughter) and two movies, also of same title, makes its stage debut at Signature Theatre. Bankrolled by Disney Theatrical Productions with no expense spared it boasts a formidable team of creators.
Bridget Carpenter is responsible for the book; Tom Kitt, music and Brian Yorkey, lyrics; Christopher Ashley, director and Sergio Trujillo, choreography. As always at Signature, the music direction (by Bryan Perri) and all the voices are strong. So is the 11-piece orchestra.
The premise is simple: what would happen if a mother and her teenage daughter stepped into each other's shoes for just one day? Instead of driving each other crazy, they could learn to appreciate each other's roles. The mother, a perfectionist who comes up with lines like "let me tie your hair back so that everyone can see your pretty face" turns into the daughter who is mortified by what her mother says, does, wears, etc. The daughter, in turn, morphs into a responsible adult.
Freaky Friday's most recent incarnation is blessed with two superb actresses, Heidi Blickenstaff as Katherine Blake and Emma Hunton as Ellie Blake. Both have the musical chops to sing and dance very well but it is their comic flair, angst and timing that makes this show so enjoyable — particularly in their duets "I Got This" and "I'm Not Myself Today." They are comediennes who are enjoying themselves; they never over-state their lines, never over-play the physicality of their characters. Much of their successful interpretation can be traced to Christopher Ashley's direction and Sergio Trujillo's very fast-moving choreography.
The ensemble of singers/dancers never misses a beat in spite of Robert Walters stealing the limelight with his exaggerated moves. They are mostly young and very energetic, keeping . up an almost frantic pace; there's even a cartwheel by Storm Lever as the arrogant, high schooler who thinks she's Queen Bee. Alan H. Green, who plays Mom's fiance, so pleased that Katherine is willing to go ahead with their marriage, does the splits. Fast.
Tom Kitt's music is catchy enough and Brian Yorkey's lyrics about hormones, biology — yes, the high school kids are required to dissect a frog — the lies parents tell and a teenage boy's take on the importance of women and sandwiches are frequently on point and very amusing.
Tow-headed Jake Heston Miller nails the part of the wacky kid brother whose disappearance makes the family fonder. J. Elaine Marcos as Torrey, the wedding planner, is the epitome of a control freak. Katie Ladner and Shayna Blass as Ellie's frenemy's Gretchen and Hannah switch moods, teenage style, with great aplomb. Kudoes to Katie Ladner for embracing her ample body while surrounded by classmates who are slim.
Beowulf Boritt has created a set with a revolving stage that, at first, looks like a normal suburb seen through a fish-eye lens. Kitchen cabinets doubling as school lockers roll on and off; the wedding scene is graced with fine floral arrangements and a multi-layered, colorful cake.
The first act clocks in at 65 minutes which seem to pass more quickly than that although there's some superfluous business with an hourglass. The second act, sadly, seems to take forever. The song "Go" sung by Adam (Jason Gotay) ironically almost brings the show to a standstill which is a pity because up to that point the ruse that drives the narrative is very much in high gear.
Disney Theatrical Productions' deep pockets and the numerous talents involved with Freaky Friday will surely give this show a strong future. (The powers that be are being cagey about what's next.) But for now, put it on your calendar to catch Heidi Blickenstaff's and Emma Hutton's perfectly matched comic turns.
Freaky Friday, based on a novel by Mary Rodgers.
Book by Bridget Carpenter
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Cast: Heidi Blickenstaff (Katherine); Emma Hunton (Ellie); Jason Gotay (Adam); Alan H Green (Mike); Jake Heston Miller alternating with Tyler Bowman (Fletcher); J. Elaine Marcos (Torrey); Storm Lever (Savannah); Shayna Blass (Hannah); Katie Ladner (Gretchen); Thaddeus McCants (Parker/Ensemble); Julian Ramos (Wells/Ensemble); Tanisha Moore and Robert Walters (Teen Ensemble); Bobby Smith (Grandpa George/Biology Teacher/Senor O'Brien/Ensemble); Sherri L. Edelen (Grandma Helene/Mrs. Luckenbill/Mrs. Time/Ensemble); Cicily Daniels (Journalist/Ms. Meyers/Officer Sitz/Ensemble); Jason SweetTooth Williams (Pastor Bruno/Dr. Ehrin/Officer Kowalski/Ensemble); Jamie Eaker (Dance Captain.)
Scenic Design by Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design by Emily Rebholz
Lighting Design by Howell Binkley
Sound Design by Brian Ronan and Kai Harada
Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va. 703-820-9771; www.signature-theatre.org; October 4 through November 20, 2016; tickets start at $40.
Review by Susan Davidson based on October 25, 2016 performance.
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