Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Freaky Friday
La Jolla Playhouse
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

David Jennings, Heidi Blickenstaff, Jake Heston Miller,
and Emma Hunton

Photo by Jim Carmody
Freaky Friday has become a Disney staple. Originally a novel by Mary Rodgers (yes, theatre royalty Mary Rodgers, daughter of Richard Rodgers and mother to Adam Guettel), it has spawned two films of the story, a 1976 version starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster and a 2003 version starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. Now, there's a third version, a musical called Disney's Freaky Friday, with a book by Bridget Carpenter, music by Tom Kitt, and lyrics by Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal).

Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, debuted the world premiere last October, and now, La Jolla Playhouse takes a turn with the show, in a co-production with Cleveland Play House and Alley Theatre. For fans of the films, this bright and colorful production will be a treat. For others, maybe not so much.

Those fans are most likely to be mothers and their daughters, who identify with the fantasy of a mutually stressed pair who inadvertently switch bodies. Mom (Heidi Blickenstaff) and daughter Ellie (Emma Hunton) end up having to live each other's lives for a day. Easy peasy, they think. They're wrong, of course.

Mom's stress comes from planning a perfect wedding (her own, to David Jennings' Mike) and having it become the cover story of a major wedding magazine. Ellie's stress comes from wanting to participate in a late-night scavenger hunt led by her crush Adam (Chris Ramirez), while at the same time dealing with her annoying little brother Fletcher (Jake Heston Miller) and, oh yes, her mother's wedding to a man who isn't her father.

The reactions to the body switch are all pretty predictable, a basic problem with Ms. Carpenter's book. Daughter Ellie finds that her mom's adult life is not what she wants right now, and Mom finds that her daughter's life has more stress in it than she imagined. When the two switch bodies again, they are "better people" for the experience, at least for a while, one suspects.

The Kitt and Yorkey songs save the day. The pair demonstrated particular insight into the teenage psyche in Next to Normal, and though these songs are lighter and more "pop" than "rock," they hit some good buttons. Both mom and daughter discover secrets each has kept ("Busted"), daughter-as-mom breaks the news to young Fletcher that "Parents Lie," and Adam shares a "man-to-man" moment with the distraught self-same Fletcher ("Women and Sandwiches").

Director Christopher Ashley's production moves easily and hits most of the right notes. He's got an "A" team of designers as collaborators (scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, costume designer Emily Rebholz, lighting designer Howell Binkley, and sound designers Kai Harada and Brian Ronan), and they all do stellar work. So does choreographer Sergio Trujillo, though less-than-perfect execution on opening night marred it some.

Ms. Hunton and Ms. Blickenstaff both sing well and manage to play each other with charm. Mr. Jennings is the model of patience as Mike, and Mr. Ramirez looks very cool on a Hoverboard.

Completely Disney, Freaky Friday will offend no one. Maybe it will make a lot of money, too.

Freaky Friday performs Tuesday through Sunday evenings through March 12, 2017, at the Mandell Weiss Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available by calling (858) 550-1010 or by visiting

Additional cast members include Jeannette Bayardelle, Eean Cochran, Joseph Dellger, Jessie Hooker, Storm Lever, Mary Jo McConnell, Tony Neidenbach, Jennafer Newberry, Julian Ramos, Alet Taylor, Jason SweetTooth Williams, and Sumi Yu.