Musical Review: Freaky Friday provides a glimpse of “just one day”

Could you live in someone else’s shoes for a day? “How hard could it be,” right?


courtesy of Mike Miller

Leads Ellie Blake (Lauren Hackett) and Katherine Blake (Malia Smaha) celebrate the wedding at the end of the musical while returning to their bodies. (Mike Miller)

In the opening scene, a mother and a daughter fight and plead for each other to change. As the first song progresses, lights grow strong and colorful on stage, flickering rapidly. There is tension between them as they grip the family hourglass.

They two start to spin… and, suddenly, neither of them is the same as they once were. There is no smoke, no strings, no quick change and no stage magic. The real magic comes through the work of the actors and their characters. This moment in the performance is the start to the duo’s action-packed journey in each others’ bodies, where they discover more about their lives by walking in each other’s shoes for one very freaky Friday.

The perfect high school show

Headshots of the Freaky Friday cast and crew in the halls of Linganore High School. (Angela Smithhisler)

The musical Freaky Friday, inspired by a 1972 book by Mary Rodgers, was written by Bridget Carpenter, with music by Tom Kitt and song lyrics by Brian Yorkey. It was produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and first performed on October 4 of 2016 at Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia. Although this show never made it to Broadway, it is the perfect high school production: an energy-packed, joke-filled, spunky, timely, heartwarming, and overall exciting family show focused on the strength and strain of love, loss, family, friendship and rivalry.

Students gather around Adam (Samuel Vinyo), the list-master for “The Hunt” and Ellie’s crush, in the halls of their high school. (Mike Miller)

This musical is about the lives of Katherine and Ellie Blake, a mother and daughter, and the challenges they are facing. The mother, a caterer, is preparing for her impending wedding with high expectations for its success, while her daughter is focused on a scavenger hunt coordinated by her crush, Adam. Ellie is also busy pushing her new stepfather away, not wanting to forget the father she lost.

Once they switch bodies at the end of the first song, in a pivotal moment full of anger and frustration, their situation gets far more complicated. They are forced to learn more about each other and start to see more clearly from both sides.

Eventually, they discover they are each uniquely strong, allowing them to move on from past mistakes, process grief, grow as individuals, and learn to love and appreciate each other again. The cast and crew conveyed this roller coaster of a story naturally,  grasping the responsibilities and weight of their roles with passion and conviction.

Katherine Blake (Malia Smaha) are hard at work planning for her wedding with the help of Weddings Magazine journalist Danielle (Mya Murphy), her future husband Mike (Joey Dorman), her assistant manager Torrey, and her son Fletcher (Caroline Smithhisler). (Angela Smithhisler)

Hackett and Smaha shine as mother and daughter

Since the relationship of the mother and daughter is tense and they do not know what to expect from each other, jokes are hilarious as they scramble to fit into each other’s lives. They uncover hidden secrets along the way.

The spotlight highlights the leading characters in particular. Malia Smaha took on the hefty leading role of the mom, Katherine, and was really able to make the daughter’s messy, sassy and free-spirited personality shine through, despite her adult appearance.

She also did a beautiful job showing how Ellie grew and matured while experiencing her mother’s life, bringing a great deal of stage presence. For example, she conveyed Ellie’s fun personality through comebacks in her lines. While in Katherine’s body, Ellie made her noticeably more sassy and often clearly only pretending to know what she is talking about. The daughter’s personality adds a free spirit to Katherine as she gets comfortable in her body and has fun in her new position of responsibility, but eventually finds why it can be so stressful and taxing for her mother; her tasks and work-family balance become overwhelming.

Senor O’ Brien (Austin Heeley), Dr. Ehrin (Jack Bowman), and Mrs. Luckenbill (Mary Bailey) at the mandatory parent-teacher conference examine Ellie’s case and checking in on her lack of progress in school. (Mike Miller)
Ellie Blake (Lauren Hackett) and her friends Hannah (Haley Lewis) and Gretchen (Maggie Glassman) attemp to win over Katherine to allow Ellie to join them in “The Hunt.” (Mike Miller)

Portraying Ellie, Lauren Hackett held up the other end of the show–a perfect balance to Smaha. From the beginning to end, she showed a brilliant interpretation of both her character’s personality and her mom-in-her-daughter’s-body acting.

Hackett captured the micro-managing qualities of the mom while appearing to be a teenager, later showing a soft side to teenager Ellie once more after they switched back. She also conveyed how Katherine’s perspectives on her daughter changed over the course of the show, seeing her as the strong and confident young adult she has become after having walked in her shoes – literally. She commanded attention at just the right moments, such as when she would calm her grown-up daughter down or express her motherly responsibilities in the teen body.

Smaha and Hackett had chemistry as a mother and daughter, clearly elevating the quality of the production with their expertise and acting choices. Both women have strong voices that did not tire throughout the show.

Unfamiliar songs become cast favorites

In the number “Not Myself Today,” both main characters open Act Two with moving lines that reveal their thoughts to the audience, breaking the fourth wall by speaking to the audience. This is a turning point for the two characters.

All student and adult actors arguing with each other during the number “Busted.” (Angela Smithhisler)

During “Oh Biology,” for example, the large ensemble put on an excellent performance that invited the audience to relate to what the mom was experiencing in her daughter’s teenage body.

Katherine can feel what her daughter feels: anxiousness in the high school halls, butterflies when around Adam, and a sense of helplessness to her hormones. She sings about how she is under the unpredictable control of her now teenage body.

Similarly, every character in the cast experiences some form of insecurity, doubt, or stress-fueled mood swings similar to what the mother and daughter are experiencing. Throughout the show, it becomes clear that Ellie and Katherine are not alone in their struggles.

Costumes from closets at home and simple sets: Life as we know it

The simplicity and effectiveness of the costumes and set, including scenery, lights, sound, costumes, makeup, and props design, along with the freedom within blocking and movement, enhanced the performance overall. Four simple stage elements, each with three sides, were spaced along the back of the stage. This somewhat minimized set kept the actors the main focus; there were no extra distractions and performances were direct, focused on building character connections and relationships, or even addressing the audience.

Adam (Samuel Vinyo), Savannah (Emily Jonas), Ms. Meyers (Victoria Pietanza), Fish Vendor (Summer McKinney), and Parker (Julia Hersch) in Act Two, singing the end to the number “Just One Day Reprise.” (Mike Miller)

For the child in the mother’s body, Smaha ditches a suit jacket first and later adds sneakers in place of dress shoes, showing a messier, more chill style. As the mother in the child’s body, Hackett pulls her hair back from covering her face and straightens up, becoming more put-together and clean. As she settles into her teen body, she adds pieces of flair in a headband complementing a simple black shirt. That made the body switching experience more believable.

In most of the scenes, students dressed as students – ripped jeans, cropped t-shirts, simple gym uniforms, and more. Adults dressed as adults – professional, crisp, collars and jackets (the reporter, assistant and parents), uniforms (cops and chefs), and so on. These normal costume choices served to keep the contrast with the body-switched characters, who were feeling out of place throughout the majority of the show.

Some of the actors – Mary Bailey as Grandma Helene, Emily Jonas as Savannah, and Audrey Kilgore as Torrey – pose backstage in their Freaky Friday costumes. (Emily Jonas)

Key lessons for all

If there is one valuable lesson this show teaches, it is that life can be messy and complicated. What matters most is making an effort to deal with the negative, show acceptance of others, and bring an openness to finding the good in those you love.

Stay tuned for the drama department’s next steps:

May 12, the advanced acting class will present Game of Tiaras at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $5.

The drama banquet is Monday, May 16. Traditionally, that is when directors Angela Smithhisler and Dan Lake announce next year’s fall and spring plays.