Review of Freaky Friday at Christ Memorial Productions

    Christ Memorial Productions produces one major production each year, usually a musical, and usually one that has roles for young people, sometimes very young people. Christ Memorial Productions is a function of Christ Memorial Lutheran Church, which views it as a service to their community, a way for the Church to get to know the community and for the community to get to know the Church. 

    Gerry and I always look forward to the productions of Christ Memorial Productions because they are always so well done. They have developed a core group, including the design and technical people as well as the performers, who are obviously dedicated to this theatre and who bring their experience, skills, and training to it, and who attract others who appreciate this dedication to the work and share it. 

    This year Christ Memorial Productions is producing Freaky Friday. Freaky Friday has an unusual history of several versions. It began as a novel by Mary Rodgers, who also wrote the music for the “princess and the pea” musical Once Upon a Mattress and was the daughter of composer Richard Rodgers and mother of composer Adam Guettel. But the first adaptation of the novel was not a musical. It was a movie in 1976 from The Walt Disney Company for which Mary Rodgers did write the screenplay, with the central figures of a mother and daughter played by Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, then a precocious teenage actor in Disney’s stable. In 1995, Disney released on TV’s The Wonderful World of Disney a second adaptation starring Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann. Next in 2003 was Disney’s second theatrical release of the story, this one with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. It’s probably the version of the story that is best known.

    Finally, in 2016, Disney developed a Freaky Friday musical. Tom Kitt (Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, also If/Then, Jagged Little Pill, Bring It On, Almost Famous) composed the score, Brian Yorkey (also Pulitzer for Next to Normal, If/Then) wrote the lyrics, and Bridget Carpenter wrote the book. The book is the usual story of mother and daughter exchanging bodies on one freaky Friday. That exchange does strain my suspension of disbelief. What exactly is exchanged, when you exchange bodies but maintain – what? memories? The mother, in the daughter’s body, felt that adolescent body reacting as an adolescent when she was talking to the daughter’s boyfriend in the hallway at school.

    We must suspend our disbelief and move on. A major difference in the musical is the means by which the exchange takes place. It always follows an argument between mother and daughter. Here, they are both grasping a large hourglass, one of a pair given to the mother by her late husband. As they pull on it, lights flash and the exchange takes place, leaving each of them holding half of the broken hourglass. It’s a good choice for the exchange device. The mother had sold the second of the pair to finance her catering business. Now that second one is their only hope for reversing the exchange. 

    The school is having its annual scavenger hunt, and the boyfriend puts the hourglass on the list for the hunt. The daughter’s team finds it, but so almost immediately does her daughter’s rival’s team. They struggle, and not to give a spoiler, I’ll let you guess who wins. But by now, after the freaky Friday, both mother and daughter have come to appreciate how much the other is struggling, the mother with her catering business which is also preparing for her wedding on the next day, the daughter with uncaring and even mean teachers and with mean fellow students. Mother and daughter connect again, love each other; you almost feel that it would hardly matter if they exchanged bodies again because they have such sympathy for each other.

    As usual, Christ Memorial has a very strong cast under director Dianne Mueller. The mother is a great part for Heather Matthews, singing and acting; what part isn’t? As the daughter, young Allison Crandall keeps up with her every step of the way. John Schrage charms as little brother with a pair of puppets that hide any shyness. Emerson Lentz plays the man the mother is about to marry. As the boyfriend, Jack St. John is the perfect adolescent gentleman. Nadja Kapetanovich leads the mean girls, including Jess Gerst and Rachel Schrage. Elena Adams and Audrey Guckes play the daughter’s closest friends. Nicky Colllett is the mean gym teacher who picks on the daughter, and Madi Moyer plays the mother’s assistant in her catering business. Tafra Perryman and Keith Poppitz are the mother’s parents, who come for the wedding. And as usual at Christ Memoriall, many more fine performers bring their reality to the stage.

    Director Mueller designed the set with a couple of permanent steps up center, providing a variety of places for the large cast and leaving downstage right, left, and center free to fill with the variety of scenes. Kayla Dressman’s choreography enriched school and home. Kathy Eichelberger’s vocal direction and Joe Paule, Sr.’s orchestral conducting kept lovely sounds flowing. Krysta Wenski’s costume designs met the styles of several generations. John Jauss kept our focus clear with his lighting design, and Larry Jost’s sound design matches it. Jacklyn Stephens is the properties manager, and Lauren Kreienkamp is the stage manager.

    With Freaky Friday, Christ Memorial Productions has filled in a gap in my theatregoing, and done it in excellent fashion.

    —Bob Wilcox

    Photo courtesy of Christ Memorial Productions 
    From the left, Ellie Blake (Allison Crandall) in a tug of war with her mother, Katherine Blake (Heather Matthews), over a magical hourglass in Freaky Friday.