TGIFF! What’s the extra F for? Freaky!
Disney’s Freaky Friday, the new musical based on Mary Rodgers’ charming 1972 children’s novel and the two movies it inspired, is now playing at the Alley Theatre in downtown Houston (through July 2nd). I recently had a chance to check it out and I left the theater with a big smile on my face, feeling like life is good. (It is!)
I’ll admit, until recently I had never read the book or seen either of the movies. Before I watched the play, I decided to track them down and check ’em out. The novel is a delightful read. Breezy and entertaining; I inhaled it in a single sitting and laughed out loud on quite a few occasions. The story was simple and compelling and I liked the characters. I enjoyed the 1976 big screen adaptation too. It stars Barbara Harris and a young Jodie Foster with a screenplay by original author Mary Rodgers. For the most part, it captures the spirit of the novel, though they do drum up the silliness and spectacle in an effort to make it a more cinematic experience. The 2003 version starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan is a more quirky, hip, and modern take. I didn’t like it as much as the first film (Lindsay Lohan is no Jodie Foster) but it’s a fun remix for a different generation.
Freaky Friday in all of its incarnations — whether on page, screen, or stage — features a mother and daughter, both envious of the other’s seemingly easy life, who, after getting into an argument, inexplicably swap bodies and see what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes. It’s a simple, timeless tale that is ripe for comedy. The framework is the same in each version, but they all put their own unique spin on the story, and the details change in every iteration.
The play is updated for present times and it’s the first version to incorporate several musical numbers that help tell the story. Songs like ‘I Got This’, ‘I’m Not Myself Today’, and ‘Women and Sandwiches’ are catchy and amusing and they don’t outstay their welcome. The music and lyrics were written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then) with a book by Bridget Carpenter. Christopher Ashley directed and Sergio Trujillo did the choreography.
The casting is aces. Heidi Blickenstaff steals the show with an exuberant turn as Katherine, the mother. She’s a joy to watch, especially after the characters switch bodies and she portrays the younger Ellie. Emma Hunton plays Ellie, her daughter, and though she’s arguably a tad old for the role, she has a powerful singing voice and she really nails the songs. Other standouts are Chris Ramirez as all-around cool kid Adam (the boy Ellie likes), David Jennings as Mike (Katherine’s fiancée), Jake Heston Miller as Ellie’s lovable brother Fletcher (Ape Face in the novel), Storm Lever (Savannah/Ensemble), and Julian Ramos (Wells/Photographer/Ensemble). They all brought their A-game and provided the energy necessary to make the production a vibrant success.
While I certainly enjoyed reading the book and watching the movies before seeing the play, it isn’t necessary. I do think it added to my experience, but each version stands on it’s own and can be viewed and appreciated individually. They all bring something fresh to the table while staying true to the spirit of Mary Rodger’s classic children’s novel.
Disney’s Freaky Friday will only be in Houston until July 2nd (this weekend and next). Grab your tickets here!
About the venue:
Alley Theatre is located downtown in Houston’s Theater District. It consists of the Hubbard Theatre (774 seats) and the Neuhaus Theatre (310 seats), both of which are small enough to feel intimate but equipped to house world-class productions on a regular basis. I recently saw The National Theatre of Scotland’s phenomenal production of Let the Right One In there, and I look forward to the upcoming stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, The 39 Steps. Parking in the garage underneath the theater is convenient and the bar is user-friendly. Pro tip: Order drinks for intermission before the show and they’ll be ready for you at the break. Also, no trip to the Alley Theatre (or any of the surrounding venues) is complete without a trip to Frank’s Pizza, a Houston staple located just a few blocks away.
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