Horizon Theatre’s current musical “Freaky Friday,” directed by Heidi Cline McKerley and running through April 22, takes mother-daughter bonding to a whole new level. You know this if you’ve read Mary Rodgers’ 1972 children’s novel, or if you’ve seen either of two movies: the Jodie Foster-Hayley Mills version in the 70’s or the Jamie Lee Curtis-Lindsay Lohan film in the 90’s.
There will soon be a Disney Channel movie of the show on view at the Horizon, with a book by Bridget Carpenter; and music by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composers (“Next to Normal”) Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (lyrics).
With all these credentials, one can hardly see how the show could go wrong. But in the magical, maddening world of the theatre, one must never count chickens.
In addition, there is a cast of stellar actor/singers such as Jennifer Alice Acker, Randi Garza, Juan Carlos Unzueta, Jeff McCurley, Jill Hames, and Frank Faucette, to name but a few (it’s the biggest cast ever at the Horizon). The Curley-Clays (Moriah and Isabel) are back with another great scenic design; director McKerley and Jeff McKerley are co-choreographers; and music direction by Alli Lingenfelter.
What we have here is a modern fairy tale about parenting and growing up. In a nutshell, an overworked, widowed mother and pastry chef named Katherine (Jennifer Alice Acker) and her rebellious teenage daughter Ellie (Abby Holland) magically swap bodies the day before Mom is scheduled to get remarried to a nice man named Mike (Frank Faucette). This body swap is caused by an enchanted hourglass. A bit far out? Sure, but no swap, no fun—and no play.
By the way, Ellie has a feisty little brother named Fletcher (played by Joseph Masson and Vinny Montague). His running away at the beginning of Act II shifts the whole emotional arc of the play, and that’s a good thing: There’s a lot of monkey business in Act I that is both comical and confusing.
Fortunately, we have a stage full of experienced professionals. Because of their panache and Ms. McKerley’s savvy direction, the “Freaky Friday” train works, and the audience accepts an abundance of wackiness. With people like Randi Garza, Jeff McKerley, and Jill Hames (all of whom have carried shows on their own) playing small and sometimes multiple parts, we’re pretty much assured of a good time. Also fine are Daniela Cobb, Hannah Lake, Christian Magby (Ellie’s understandably bewildered beau), and Brittani Minnieweather.
Ultimately, it is the relationship between Ms. Acker’s Katherine and Ms. Holland’s Abby and the empathy that they necessarily forge that furnishes the emotional bonding that makes the audience smile. Both of these performers acquit themselves admirably; we root for them.
If you’re looking for further plot permutations, you won’t find them here. If you’re not already familiar with the show, just sit back and let it happen. And we don’t like spoilers.
There are about 17 songs and some fun choreography to keep you entertained. I can’t help but think a little judicious play doctoring would be in order here; in spite of all the hijinks, the evening runs a bit long. As I mentioned, Act II moves us into higher gear and keeps us there. I have a friend who took her grandchild to the show, and they both had a wonderful time. Come to think of it, the need we all have of bonding, of binding ourselves to our fellow human beings may be the central message here; and it’s most welcome.
For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.