Or, “Why You and Your Family/Squad/Cat Need to See Horizon’s Freaky Friday Yesterday.”
What happens when a mom and daughter start fighting about how much neither understands the other? Probably tears followed two hours later by a knowing glance and reconciling hug. That’s real life and/or Gilmore Girls, but in a Disney story, this set-up is begging for something strange and wonderful. And for everyone to sing about it.
In Horizon Theatre’s Southeastern regional debut of Freaky Friday the musical, Pulitzer Prize-winning songwriters Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey set out to prove to the world that they can write a 100% family-friendly musical, an unbelievable feat for the pair whose most recent hit included the song, “What the Fu[dge]?” At the same time, if any Broadway team is qualified to write a mother/daughter saga alongside bookwriter Bridget Carpenter of NBC’s sap-machines, Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, the Next to Normal writers are a natural choice. Fans of both the Linsay Lohan and Jodi Foster movies (or even the Gaby Hoffman one, but who remembers that?) will be pleasantly surprised by the way Kitt and Yorkey’s musical interpretation respects the integrity of the comedy while adding a fresh spin.
The day before her wedding, Katherine gets in an argument with her teenage daughter Ellie which results in the two switching bodies. Over the next 24 hours, they discover how much they didn’t know about each other and ultimately, how much they love each other. And also that they might both be low-key crushing on Adam the Highschool Hottie, but who isn’t?
As Artistic Director Lisa Adler told us in her curtain speech, each Freaky Friday adaptation re-adapts the basic premise with a new set of characters, new plot, and new modern-day setting. So following this tradition, Carpenter and co.’s circa 2017 reincarnation involves a virtual scavenger hunt a la Pokemon Go, video correspondence, and a couple of stray 2005 remnants like the phrase “all up in my grill,” and maybe a flip-phone.
In the expert hands of Horizon’s company, Kitt and Yorkey’s score masterfully expands the characterization by giving Freaky Friday fans moments they hoped for but couldn’t fully imagine, with notable highlights like “I Got This,” “Oh, Biology,” and “Busted.” Paired with Jeff and Heidi Cline McKerley’s full-company choreography (yes, they boldly make the leads dance), each song in the female-driven musical theatre pop score* is simply a bundle of fun, with impressive showstoppers that bring down the house without dissolving into an undefined mass of screlting.**
The strongest aspect of this version isn’t just the hilarity, catchy songs, and choreography, but tying them together is the over-the-top charicatured depiction of high school- best exemplified in how everything stops each time Adam (a smooth Christian Magby) enters, and the chorus sings out his name. The weaker “adult world” sequences are minimally fleshed out, saved mostly because Jenn Acker is freaking hilarious.
As “the daughter” Ellie and “mother in the daughter’s body” Katherine, Abby Holland carries the show with heart. She embodies Katherine’s return to high school by combining an endearingly awkward physicality and the blind confidence of a mouse trying to stare down a bull. That coupled with her powerful voice makes it easy to forget that she’s really a kid.
Once you can get past the fact that Jennifer Alice Acker and Holland look the same age, Acker is amusingly gawky as Ellie in her mother’s posh body. Her very loose physicalities juxtaposed with her magazine cover-worthy cooking business make for priceless comedy.
Christian Magby captures the swagger of a clueless-but-pretty high school boy with ease, especially in “Women and Sandwiches.” Atlanta favorite Randi Garza nails the Regina George-level sickly sweet and irrationally evil Savannah. It’s not clear what artistic choice made Garza play both Savannah and journalist Alexandra, but is anyone going to complain about seeing such a powerhouse twice as much? Nah.
Other notable appearances include the laughably annoying Joseph Masson as the kid brother/son Fletcher, and Frank Faucette as the irresistable fiance Mike, who woos us all with his rendition of “Vows” (in Kitt/Yorkey terms, this is Freaky Friday‘s version of “I’ve Been”).
What looked like another needless adaptation of a story that has decidedly been done turns out to be one of the most solid family musicals Atlanta has seen in a long time. The show itself knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be and tackles its clear goal exceptionally. In the capable hands of Horizon Theatre, this production is delightful, funny, heart-wrenching, and is a surprise must-see this season.
*And if you LOL at the opening song title, “Just One Day,” just subtly different from Next to Normal‘s opener “Just Another Day,” congratulations, you too are a nerd.
**Screlting- (noun) the vocal combination of screaming and belting by females, first seen in Rent, and most recently overused in Heathers the musical.