Theatrical’s bright-coloured, boisterous production of Freaky Friday reflects not the 1976 nor the 2003 film, but the 2018 Disney TV musical.
In this contemporary, but fundamentally wholesome version of the tale, the central discord is between Ellie (Lyla Digrazia), a willful teenager who resents her mother, Katherine (Stephanie Powell), for remarrying after her father’s death. The empathy-stirring switch of bodies is wreaked by an enchanted hour glass–on the day of Katherine’s wedding, no less. The pair resolve to deploy the Hunt, a competitive event at Ellie’s high school, to try recover the matching hour glass that may remedy the situation; obstacles abound.
The show runs almost two-and-a-half hours (with intermission), and dazzles mainly through its cast’s voices, all of which are powerful and pure, sailing through every number. Different settings are effectively conjured by a pink refrigerator, a couch, a set of lockers featuring peppy stickers and the scrawl ‘Zoe Waz Heere’ (the aptest symbol of the production’s tone).
Digrazia and Powell feud, clash, and embrace with ease. The only real oversight is their discordant portrayals of Ellie; Digrazia kicks-off the character’s narration in a fairly contained manner, and Powell goes on to play her with a cartoonishness that, while called for, didn’t quite cohere. It’s a hard feat for the stage, but the Friday would feel freakier if we were truly made to believe that one person – distinct in temperament and tics – was inhabiting the physicality of another.
As the day progresses, we watch Katherine contend with school, clueless about the expectations of Ellie’s friends and Ellie’s crush on Adam (Thomas Martin), a classmate whose sweet simplemindedness evokes Kelso from That ‘70s Show. Adam’s presence is heralded by all characters chorusing his name, a plunge into purple lighting, and teal dots swarming the stage vertiginously. On opening night, this plain adulation never failed to make the audience laugh.
At home, Ellie literally crumples under the pressures of helming a wedding, appeasing Katherine’s fiancée, Mike (Michael Gray) and parenting her puppet-wielding younger brother, Fletcher (Nathaniel Calleja). It is hard to look away from Powell, whose wide-eyed, loose-limbed, cringing, squawking performance of Ellie in the wrong body is the most comical of the bunch. Powell also produces the production’s most convincing moments of pathos: when Ellie strokes Fletcher’s hair as he lies on her lap during ‘After All of This and Everything,’ her discomfiture softening gradually into an admission of love.
Read: Book review: The Cut
Regarding the rift between mother and daughter(how it was caused, and why it endures) Freaky Friday fumbles a few opportunities for cogency and clarity; the singing and dancing are sturdier than the story. But, in its fidelity to the Disney original, the show is bound to delight kids and musical-lovers, or even anyone who is craving something vibrant during a drab week.
Freaky Friday presented by Theatrical
Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne
Book by: Bridget Carpenter Music by: Tom Kitt Lyrics by: Brian Yorkie
Based on the novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers
and the Disney films
Licensed exclusively by Music Theatre International (Australasia)
Director: Bronte Regos Thiele
Musical Director: Peter Pham Nguyen
Choreographer: Bridie Clark
Executive Producer: Andrew Gyopar
Cast: Lyla Digrazia, Stephanie Powell, Michael Gray, Nathaniel Calleja, Thomas Martin, Kate Thurkle, Charlotte Willis, Maggie Lynch, Tach Sutton, Jessi Neilsen Carreño, Jack Lear, Isobel Smart, Jerry Ge, Peter Overton, Sarah Genis, Lynette Williams, Warren Overton
Tickets: from $55
Freaky Friday will be performed until 18 September 2022.