"FREAKY FRIDAY" through Aug. 24, Hale Center Theatre, 9900 South Monroe Street, Sandy (801-984-9000 or hct.org); running time: two hours, 20 minutes (one intermission)
SANDY — If you were forced to switch places with your teen, could you hack it?
That’s the pervading question of Hale Centre Theatre’s new musical “Freaky Friday,” running through Aug. 24, which proved during Monday's opening night performance that through fresh and relevant storytelling and songs, there’s surprisingly more mileage left in this well-worn tale.
Disney can’t seem to get enough of this riotous mother-daughter switcheroo based on Mary Rodgers’ famous 1972 novel. First came a hit 1976 film starring Jodie Foster, then a 1995 TV version and then a 2003 film remake starring Lindsay Lohan. Now Disney has yet again reimagined “Freaky Friday” into a musical romp that has the look and feel of something from the Disney Channel but with, thankfully, more sophisticated writing.
As if to overcompensate for this familiar, funny-but-predictable story, Disney enlisted the help of A-list TV writer Bridget Carpenter ("Friday Night Lights," "Parenthood" and "Westworld") for the book as well as the musical magic of duo Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the team that won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for their 2008 rock musical “Next to Normal.”
Yes, this bubblegum-fun, magical mother-daughter body swap is a far cry from “Next to Normal’s” heavy subject matter about bipolar disorder — certainly, they won’t be handing out any Pulitzers for “Freaky Friday” — but the musical is not without insight.
While remaining light and fun, “Freaky Friday” does confront issues ranging from anxiety, to body image, to loss and grief. It also shines a spotlight on Pinterest-parenting, inviting reflection on parents’ obsession with achieving perceived perfection to the point that kids themselves often feel like set pieces.
The talented Bailee Morris and Scout Smith, cast M/W/F in the mother-daughter roles of Katherine and Ellie Blake, carried their parts off with seasoned skill in Monday night's Utah premiere of the musical. (Korianne Johnson and Bailee Johnson are cast T/H/S).
The jackpot opening number, “Just One Day,” is a lively hook. With the entire cast in tow, Ellie dreams of a single solitary day in which she’s free from her mother’s nagging. Katherine, a widow raising two kids on her own, also envisions just one day — her upcoming wedding day — when Ellie helps out enough so Katherine can achieve her dream of creating “total awe” in her guests. As a professional chef hoping to drum up more business by catering her own wedding, she aims not just to impress her guests but also to impress a wedding magazine journalist covering her event.
The songs, which pop up every five minutes or so like clockwork, are snappy and smart, with standouts like “Busted,” a funny number where Ellie and Katherine discover each other’s secrets.
This comes right after their rather halted, awkward and anticlimactic body transfer while fighting over a large hourglass. As they angrily tug back and forth, they wish for the same thing at the same time and … poof! They instantly discover they have switched bodies.
“Parents Lie” is another musical winner, with a darker and more reflective tone that Ellie (sung by Morris) sings to her little brother while stuck in her mother's body. Her character decides to lay out “the truth” and, in so doing, causes havoc.
A rather touching scene occurs when Ellie ruins her mother's work-of-art wedding cake and the whole family gets in on baking seven-layer bars as a delicious but not-so-pretty substitute. Katherine discovers from watching "messy Ellie" be the mom, that involving her family in her wedding is more important than achieving picture-perfection.
Although the gradual inner transformation both mother and daughter experience during that 12-hour day gets a bit lost within the wacky antics and humor of the musical, songs like “After All of This and Everything,” (also sung by Ellie to her brother), aid in grounding the work and unfolding the “walk a mile in her shoes” message of empathy and mutual understanding.
Seemingly made-to-order for the Utah audience, “Freaky Friday” is a family-friendly frolic heavy on laughs with a sprinkling of touching, tear-jerking scenes.
If you take your teen (like I did), they may poke fun at the depictions of high school, but even those provided for enlightening conversation on the drive home. Certainly, many parents will walk away as I did, asking themselves tough questions about how we’re raising our teens.
Overall, my son approved (and he’s a much tougher critic than I am). I never once saw him try to slip on his AirPods, and he even pointed out that some of the dance moves from the popular video game “Fortnight” had managed to find their way into Cory Stephen’s energetic choreography.
Talk about up-to-the-minute.
Content advisory: Hale Centre Theatre's "Freaky Friday" is suitable for all ages.