LINDA DIVITO AND OLIVIA JANE MELL ARE A MOTHER DAUGHTER TEAM THAT MAKES THIS NEW MUSICAL A SURE HIT
The Mom and Daughter Disney classic FREAKY FRIDAY comes to Walnut Creek to open the Summer theatre season. The Bay Area premiere is now on stage at Center REPertory through June 30. The high end pop musical brings so much color and fun to the Margaret Lesher stage, with a full throttle company of the Bay's best. Bridget Carpenter’s book, Tom Kitt’s music, and Brian Yorkey’s lyrics bring this new musical comedy its Disney charm. It was a decent read in fluff fiction when Mary Rodgers wrote the best-selling book in 1972. Then Disney turned the novel into a Golden Globe-nominated movie in 1976 starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, in this "twilight zone" view of life in another person’s shoes. It was a sitcom that worked well enough in 2003 when Disney remade the movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.
Directed by Jeff Collister, who says due to the newness of the musical “It has a familiar title—a lot of people know Freaky Friday, even if they haven’t seen it but it’s a new production,” says Collister. “We get to create a show and the characters from the ground up. It’s not like other shows where the character has developed over the years. In Freaky Friday, we don’t know any of these people, so it’s all brand-new material for all of us to discover and figure out.” FREAKY FRIDAY never made it to Broadway so it is rare opportunity for local bay area fans to see this new musical.
FREAKY FRIDAY features local favorite Lynda DiVito and Olivia Jane Mell play both parts, a challenge for both director and actors. The show has a hit pop score with the rousing opener, “Just One Day,” where mom and daughter don’t see eye to eye on anything. Arguing about rules and who’s being unfair to whom, the pair is in constant tension. Katherine is stressing it is just a day away from marrying Mike played by the dapper Noel Anthony, a sweet man who deals with Ellie’s wrath missing her recently deceased father. Divito and Mell show off their excellent voices, as the other supporting cast members are introduced. The scene ends with a fateful wrestling match over that magical heirloom hourglass. “The Hourglass” song is a bit unclear - the switch happens fast and story kicks off its “what if” plot.
Unlike the 2003 film, in this version mom owns a small catering business and her high school daughter is set to spend the night on a scavenger hunt. Ellie sings “I Got This” as she takes on her mother’s role of bossing people around at her catering business, and Kate is a bit stressed to put her wedding aside to go back to high school. Soon enough they realize how hard it is to be in the other’s point of view. Collister and music director Daniel Feyer bring the best out of his two leads, and the feature characters keep this musical delightfully spunky.
DiVito’s character in Ellie's body, works the Gen Z poses and phrases and jittery physicality to perfection. While Mell is not as comfortable when she is the teen age Ellie, but is pure Mom after she makes the switch. It was easier for me to see both actors playing their switched roles. In the song “Busted” the two show us a funny account of parents and kids uncovering the secrets they keep from each other, both actors show off their accomplished voices and comic timing.
We meet the adult players in the song “What You Got” featuring the marvelous Allison Quin as mom’s assistant Torry, the enthusiastic Justin Sabino as Louie the photographer, and the awesome Katrina Lauren McGraw as Alexandra. All the featured cast play a number of roles, Mc Graw is a showstopper when she plays Meyers the Gym teacher, and Sabino kicks up a storm as a dancer in all the highschool numbers. The first rate Emily Serdahl as Savannah the villain in the story and classic "mean girl" gives the teen the perfect edge. The powerhouse ensemble includes the terrific Aubri No’eau Kahlekulu as Laurel, Giana Gambardella as Grethen, Zachariah Mohammed as the colorful Xavier, the keen Bryan Munar as Austin, Katie Turley as Cheyenne, Andrea Dennison Laufer as Hannah, and the likable Nathan Richardson as Parker.
The featured cast is also rich with personality and some switch roles when the story turns into a high school setting. Highlight in this cast include local regular Nick Quintell who is a quick-change riot in multiple roles including the janitor and the spanish teacher with his one perfect solo in “Somebody Has To Take The Blame”. The keen Mark Farrell plays the pastor and a shrink, the ideal Cindy Goldfield is great as Grandma Helene. The silver hair role is played by the smart Michael McCarthy as Grandpa George.
Tom Kitt’s pop score’s a mix of genres from the ’60s and ’70s. Yorkey’s lyrics are always upbeat throughout, with a mix of colorful numbers to get the crowd going. Kitt and Yorkey created the wonderful rock musical Next to Normal, which takes on a moms dysfunction yet this FREAKY FRIDAY family is pure sitcom fun. Ellie messes up her new parenting role with her frisky puppet happy younger brother Fletcher, causing him to run away, we are treated to the, raise-the-roof “Bring My Baby Brother Home.” Fletcher is played by ten year old pro Tyler Patrick Hennessy, who is just back from a national tour of Finding Neverland. Hennessy steals all his scenes with his two hand puppets an especially his break out hit “Shopping With My Mom”.
Divito brings out the laughs with the flawless attempts at teen slang such as the “S’up?” she blurts to heartthrob Adam played by the sizzling Dave J Adams. Adam is smitten with Ellie and loves her mom's sandwiches. Adams steals the show with superb dance moves and his show stopping number “Women and Sandwiches” along with the adorable young Hennessy. Choreographer Jennifer Perry keeps the dance brisk and hopping and the high school numbers including “Oh Biology” hyped with energy and features Adams hip hop class, with Sabino, Mohammed’s and Munars diverse dance skills.
The craft team includes a bright backlit set of windows and icons of new media designed by Kelly James Tighe. Each of the window frames jammed with Roger Anderson’s props that show off a modern 2018 family. Tighe’s set easily transformed from the family home to the halls of Ellies High School. Kurt Landisman light design bloomes with spring pop colors as well as Victoria Livingston-Hall eye candy costumes for the ensemble and the grunge look for Ellie.
Music Director Daniel Feyer has a foolproof pit of nine musicians who brought Tom Kitt’s music that Disney charm. The 20 member cast is pitch perfect and sound designer Jeff Mockus kept the Margaret Lesher Theatre ringing with joy. Stage manager Kathleen J Parsons keeps the rolling set pieces flowing from scene to scene in the two and half hour musical and Perry’s choreography is eye catching and vibrant.
FREAKY FRIDAY delivers on the "twlight zone" high jinks that define this fluffy fun fantasy. The family friendly, wholesome musical fits the Disney mold. With racial, and political divides dominating news, even among our young adult iGen, a story about understanding someone else’s truth is important to challeneng the Trump years. FREAKY FRIDAY ends the CenterReps award winning 50th season. Season 51 begins in August with a hit musical that celebrates the wedding of the century. The producers can’t announce the title at review time, but it opens August 31 and will be directed by the award winning Marc Jacobs. In the meantime start your summer theatre season with DISNEY'S FREAKY FRIDAY family, tickets are selling fast.
The CenterREP presents the Bay Area Premiere of
DISNEY'S FREAKY FRIDAY
Book by Music by Lyrics by Bridget Carpenter Tom Kitt Brian Yorkey
Directed by Jeff Collister
Choreography by Jennifer Perry
Music Direction by Daniel Feyer
Must Close June 30th
Center REPertory Company
Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org
TICKET INFORMATION: For more information go to CenterREP.org or call 925.943.SHOW (7469). You can also visit the LCA Ticket Office at 1601 Civic Drive or the Ticket Office Outlet at the Downtown Walnut Creek Library.
Photo’s by Kevin Berne
Lynda DiVito*, Olivia Jane Mell*, Dave J. Abrams, Noel Anthony*, Andrea Dennison-Laufer, Mark Farrell*, Giana Gambardella, Cindy Goldfield*, Tyler Patrick Hennessy, Aubri No’Eau Kahalekulu, Michael McCarty, Katrina Lauren McGraw*, Zachariah Mohammed, Bryan Munar, Alison Quin, Nick Quintell, Nathan Richardson, Justin Sabino, Emily Serdahl*, Katie Turley