Last weekend, the Four Seasons Theatre Company threw its heart and soul into the local debut of the newest Disney musical, Freaky Friday. The opening night show featured perfect casting, terrific vocals and a cleverly simplistic set design augmented with impressive high-tech lighting effects.
It was a surprisingly good show. Which is not to say that an outstanding production by the Four Seasons Theatre is surprising; their stage efforts have a well-deserved reputation for excellence. The surprise was that the Disney Theatrical money-making machine has finally come up with a show that looks and feels original.
It was probably inevitable that this story of a mother and daughter switching souls would end up as a musical. The Disney folks have been beating the Freaky Friday drum for decades. First there was the really funny 1976 movie starring a teenaged Jody Foster and Barbara Harris (Who? Well, I remember her, even if you don’t). Then there was a totally forgettable TV version of the same story starring Shelly Long (Who? Ted Danson’s girlfriend. Look it up). Finally the Disney folks did it again in a mildly amusing 2003 theatrical release starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan (Who? Oh, never mind).
Unlike other Disney musicals (please don’t make me list them!), those earlier film versions of Freaky Friday were straight comedies without music. So Disney Theatrical turned to the veteran composing partners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey to create a musical version of the story, practically from scratch. Kitt and Yorkey had a string of praise-worthy previous collaborations, including the Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway musical drama “Next to Normal,” about mental illness in suburban America. Thankfully, their vision for Freaky Friday produced a more family-friendly, upbeat musical.
The score of Freaky Friday is written for two female leads who can really belt out its tunes; Rachel Saltmarsh and Celeste Baillio do all that and more.
One of the odd things about Freaky Friday is its relative dearth of dialogue. The show is almost operatic in that the songs don’t just advance the plot, they actually tell the story. Ms. Saltmarsh and Ms. Baillio not only powerfully render the majority of the play’s witty solos, they also sing lead in most of its choral numbers.
As Ellie, Ms. Saltmarsh is a typical teenage know-it-all rebelling against Ms. Baillio in the role of the picture-perfect obsessive-compulsive single-parent. But the fun really starts when they magically switch roles; that’s when Ms. Baillio really starts doing the play’s heavy lifting. It’s easy for Ms. Saltmarsh to convincingly act mature. But Ms. Baillio is over-the-top amazing when she gets positively frantic as a teenager trapped in an adult’s body. It’s a side-splittingly hilarious performance.
The male leads in the production are Walker McKenna, who can smoothly croon marriage vows with a straight face; Kyle Pyfer as a hunky high-school heart-throb; and pint-sized Danny Phillips as a youngster who lets hand puppets do most of his talking. Although these guys are definitely in the backseat to their female co-stars in this show, their performances were nevertheless top-notch.
Freaky Friday also boasts a solid supporting cast and a huge ensemble of singers and dancers who seem determined to use Skyview High School’s turntable stage every chance they get.
Performances of Freaky Friday will continue this weekend at Skyview High School in Smithfield.