This weekend, the Disney musical Freaky Friday opened at the Little Theatre of Alexandria to an enthusiastic and captivated audience. From its humble beginnings as a novel in 1972 by Mary Rodgers and a subsequent film adaptation, the musical retells the extraordinary tale of a mother and daughter who swap bodies and are forced to live as the other. The musical adaptation, with book by Bridget Carpenter and music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, made its debut in 2016 at Signature Theatre in Arlington.
The story revolves around Katherine (Kristina Friedgen), a busy, overworked, single mother, and her rebellious teenage daughter Ellie (Sofia Cruz). The two actresses quickly demonstrate the tension between Katherine and Ellie, due to their differing personalities and lack of understanding of the other’s life perspective. Their lives are thrown into chaos when an enchanted hourglass mysteriously causes them to switch bodies mid-argument. Now they both must spend the day as the other person. Katherine, now in Ellie’s body, has to experience the pressures of high school, encounter cliques, maintain friendships, and tackle romance. Ellie, as Katherine, faces the task of juggling work responsibilities, preparing for a wedding, being a parent, and handling a fiancé.
One of Friedgen’s and Cruz’s remarkable achievements in playing Katherine and Ellie is their ability to embody the characters’ dual personalities. Cruz successfully switched from Ellie’s teenage exuberance to Katherine’s more mature disposition. Cruz’s voice also captured Ellie’s youthful spirit and energy. From the moment Katherine takes the stage, Friedgen exudes an air of professionalism and maturity befitting Katherine’s character. Friedgen effortlessly reveals her performance versatility by convincingly embodying the spirit of the teenager trapped in her body. Furthermore, Friedgen exhibits exceptional vocal capabilities that enable her to seamlessly navigate the vocal gymnastics of the musical’s score. Most notable is her ability to deftly balance the comedic and dramatic moments in the character’s arc. Her heartfelt performance resonated with the audience, invoking a profound sense of empathy for Katherine’s inner struggles.
The other members of the Blake family include innocent, annoying little brother Fletcher (James Campione) and future stepfather Mike (Paul Caffrey). Both give heartbreaking and beautifully truthful performances as Ellie’s and Katherine’s predicament further complicates the lives of their loved ones. Other noteworthy performances include Lourdes Turnblom as Katherine’s hysterical, high-strung, underappreciated assistant, Torrey. Turnblom’s performance elicited many laughs from the audience as did Ellie’s classmates, played by Naja Bates, Joshua Mutterperl, Michelle Stein, and Hannah Taylor. The remarkable vigor and enthusiasm of these young performers engaged the audience and brought another dynamic to the multi-generational cast.
The art of showcasing character development within a musical ensemble is a challenge that was adeptly met by director Joanna Henry. Most of the cast played multiple characters: from the quirky, supportive catering staff, to the lovestruck student, to a novice minister, each role channeled distinct personalities and motivations, significant to the narrative. By ensuring meaningful interactions among characters, Henry and the cast created a believable world. These interactions, whether through dialogue or stage business, provided pivotal moments for the characters to reveal their vulnerabilities and strengths. The orchestration of these opportunities to foster character growth created an impactful ensemble performance.
Moreover, choreographer Stefan Sittig skillfully utilized choreography to reinforce character development. Through synchronized movement, gestures, and stage pictures, the full ensemble effectively supported the story’s emotion and individual character arcs. Expertly choreographed numbers that wisely emphasized the text-heavy musical numbers reinforced character growth and relationships. Music director Chris Tomasino also demonstrated his ability to create a gorgeous ensemble blend. With the challenges presented by a modern musical theater score, the vocalist and orchestral attention to detail excited the audience with their full-bodied sound.
The show is written with many challenging set changes, requiring swift and choreographed transitions. Myke Taister’s two-level fixed set helped solve this challenge and allowed scene changes to not interrupt the pace of the production. With the use of a door center stage, a living room stage left, a school setting stage right, and a city skyline on the second level, Taister created a multi-functioning set for the actors to use with ease. Costume design by Judy Whelihan and Robin Worthington enabled the actors to successfully complete multiple quick changes. In some cases, this also required hair and makeup changes created by Natalie Turkevich. Lighting design was provided by JK Lighting and sound design by Alan Wray. With the show demanding complex technical elements, it was clear that the meticulous planning of the technical team supported the production’s artistic vision.
Freaky Friday is a charming Disney musical that offers a poignant exploration of the complexities of familial relationships, empathy, and the importance of self-discovery. Through its engaging plot, delightful characters, and enchanting musical numbers, LTA’s Freaky Friday captures the heart of audiences, serving as a timeless reminder to cherish the unique bond between parents and children.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
Freaky Friday plays through August 12, 2023, at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA. For tickets ($29–$34) call the box office at (703)-683-0496. Reserved-seating tickets are available online or at the door on performance days.
COVID Safety: LTA is mask optional in all their public spaces, including their auditorium. Though masking is now optional in their facilities, they support and encourage those who feel the need to continue to mask in public spaces.
Book by Bridget Carpenter, music by Tom Kitt, and lyrics by Brian Yorkey
based on the novel by Mary Rodgers and the Walt Disney motion pictures
Produced by Luana Bossolo and sheri ratick stroud
Directed by Joanna Henry