Freaking hilarious! Two years after it was supposed to open, the Colonial Players finally began a run of Disney’s stage version of Freaky Friday — on a Friday night, of course — and it is freaking hilarious. This gem of a musical, written by Bridget Carpenter with music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, managed to engage, entertain, and crack up the entire multigenerational audience, from 9 to 99, in the theater-in-the-round. The show, directed by Ron Giddings, immediately immerses us in the world of Katherine (a stressed-out single mom about to get remarried) and Ellie (her disgruntled, angsty teenage daughter). The stage magic involved in making the ensemble cast of 15 feel like 50 is truly exceptional. There’s so much to look at, thanks in part to choreography (Ron Giddings) and set design and decoration (Lindsay Zetter), and the “Prologue/Just One Day” immediately drops you into the middle of their hectic modern-day world.
It’s almost unbelievable all that happens in the two hours that the musical unfolds, a madcap adventure that starts right in the second number, “The Switch.” Those familiar with the story will know what’s coming: mom and daughter magically switch bodies and are aghast, and disbelieving, at the result. The acting feat required here is challenging, and both actresses pull it off seamlessly and believably, with impeccable comic timing and delivery that only grows as the show continues. In “I Got This,” Abbie Smith as Ellie shines. Her musical ability and stage presence is an absolute delight to watch. Her voice is powerful and beautiful, and she emotes through her constantly changing facial expressions. Another strength of the show is the supporting cast. Reva Thompson as Torrey, Katherine’s assistant in her catering business, is pitch-perfect, and Kylie Airin Sjolie convincingly pivots from a wedding magazine reporter to a militant PE teacher to a police officer with soaring vocals in each role.
Comic relief is almost constant as the two spend a day in each other’s shoes, trying not to mess things up too much and find a missing magical hourglass so they can switch back. A crowd favorite throughout the musical was Andrew Limansky as heartthrob Adam, Ellie’s crush and mastermind of a wild scavenger hunt (“The Hunt”) that is the talk of the school.
There are several scenes that take place at Ellie’s school, the fictional Grover Cleveland High School, and these are a treat to watch, as Katherine-in-Ellie’s body contends with queen bee Savannah, portrayed with perfect mean-girl energy by Alexandra Kuebler, and her hapless crush Adam. She dissects an actual frog and her feelings for him in biology class during “Oh, Biology.” These familiar high school tropes are treated with sincerity and humor.
Jamie Erin Miller as Katherine nails the humor of a teen inhabiting a mom’s body and world. She captures the exasperation of her daughter with accurate body language — one can’t help but wonder if her day job as a school principal informed some of her acting choices. Whatever the case, she succeeds. Freaky Friday has found a perfect balance between solos, duets, and well-executed ensemble numbers, like in “Busted,” a particularly memorable company number, where the audience is reminded of the fact that parents often keep as many secrets as their offspring.
The musical is riveting as pressure builds for both Katherine and Ellie to find the hourglass, and Ellie, in Katherine’s body, drives her brother Fletcher (Miles Shulman) home, telling him “like it is” (“Parents Lie”), which elicits laughs and cringes, and causes him, another scene-stealer in this cast full of scene-stealers, to run away from home.
It’s in Act Two where the mom and daughter begin to understand each other and work as a team. A stand-out, surprisingly emotional, and touching number is “Bring My Baby (Brother) Home,” performed by Ellie, Katherine, Mike (an affable Brian Mellen), and the two police officers tasked with working the missing-child case.
Another touching scene is Ellie’s crush Adam singing “Go,” which in addition to Andrew Limansky’s strong vocals, includes staging, choreography, and effects by Ron Giddings (direction, music direction, and choreography) and Kyle Sullivan (special effects) to make us truly feel we’re watching a wide-ranging scavenger hunt even though it’s a small stage.
The show’s final moments include excitement and tension as we learn who wins the hunt and how, or whether, Kathrine and Mike will actually get married. We are treated to these two women coming to a greater understanding of each other through their powerful duets, and they, and the entire cast, triumph. Like the Twinkies Katherine indulges in secretly, this show is a pleasure to behold and get swept up in for an evening of boisterous fun.
Running Time: Two hours 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Freaky Friday plays through May 15, 2023, at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street, Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($23 regular; $18 student, senior, and military), call the box office at 410-268-7373 or purchase them online.
COVID Safety: Face masks must be worn properly by everyone in all Colonial Players facilities at all times, regardless of vaccination status.
Produced by Jennifer Cooper; Lighting Design by Wes Bedsworth; Sound Design by Kaelynn Bedsworth. Properties Design by Lois Banscher and Kyle Sullivan; Costume Design by Jennifer Cooper and Kathy Parrott.