Signature Theatre’s production of ‘Freaky Friday’ is fantastic

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Signature Theatre’s production of ‘Freaky Friday’ is fantastic
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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Margot Schulman)

It was a major coup for Signature Theatre to be selected by Disney as the off-off Broadway troupe to debut “Freaky Friday” — its latest film-to-stage production. And we all know how well “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “High School Musical” fared. And need I mention “Newsies?” These are just a few of the wildly successful shows Disney has produced for Broadway.

You might recall the first film version of this production, released in 1976. Based on the novel by Mary Rodgers, it starred the adorable Jody Foster as the daughter and Barbara Harris as her mother. A 2003 remake featured the ever-talented Jamie Lee Curtis and a young Lindsay Lohan as the mother-daughter duo. It opened with the bubble gum tune “Happy Together” by The Turtles, morphing into a pop punk cover as the credits rolled.

The success of these earlier films, where an overworked mother and her teen daughter magically switch roles, must have been on the minds of Bridget Carpenter (“Friday Night Lights”), who wrote the book for this musical comedy, lyricist Brian Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt, who believed the material could translate into a major musical.

It does, and as a result we are treated to an engaging and heartwarming musical that was just waiting in the wings to be launched to stardom.

Christopher Ashley (“Memphis,” “Xanadu,” “The Rocky Horror Show”) directs this smashing world premiere production that is already scheduled for theaters around the country.

What’s not to like about a Broadway-alumni studded cast and production team, slickly engineered choreography by Sergio Trujillo, was nominated for a 2016 Tony Award for Broadway’s “On Your Feet,” and a Kitt/Yorkey — Tony Award-winners for “Next To Normal” — score that will have you humming the tunes before you exit the theater? This show has smash hit written all over it.

If you don’t remember the quirky premise, single- mom-with-issues Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff) and her feisty daughter Ellie (Emma Hunton) magically switch roles for a day. Katherine, who is about to marry the adoring Mike (Alan H Green) wants to shed the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting an angst-filled teen, and Ellie has had it with the restrictions and emotional upheavals of being a high schooler with a helicopter mom.

When the roles are switched and Katherine takes Ellie’s place, she experiences the day-to-day bullying and body shaming her daughter endures, while Ellie sees the daily grind of raising kids without a father.

It’s nearly impossible to single out one or two cast members for recognition, as this ensemble is seamless. But aside from the aforementioned leads, J. Elaine Marcos as Torrey, Katherine’s long-suffering assistant, Storm Lever as Savannah the bully, Jason Gotay as Ellie’s boyfriend, Adam, and Jake Heston Miller (about whom we raved in Arena Stage’s recent production of “Oliver”) as her brother Fletcher, are outstanding.

Fans of Signature Theatre will be delighted to see stage veterans Sherri L. Edelen and Bobby Smith each playing a trio of roles.

Eighteen glorious numbers, backed by conductor Bryan Perri’s nine-piece band, fill the two acts, giving us a diverse score of touching ballads, 50s rock styles and Latin beats sung by a cast whose voices are beyond lawless.

A huge nod goes to costume designer Emily Rebholtz, who perfectly captures and blends the funky-cool energy of teen styles.

Run to the box office for this one and be sure to bring the kids. You can say you saw it before it hit the big time.

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