'Freaky Friday' musical a fun romp in Williams Street Rep premiere
"Freaky Friday" - ★ ★ ★
Disney has gotten loads of mileage out of Mary Rodgers' 1972 novel "Freaky Friday," including a 2016 stage musical adaptation now making its professional Chicago-area debut with Williams Street Repertory in Crystal Lake.
"Freaky Friday" revolves around a teenage girl and her mother who magically swap bodies for a day. The novel has spawned two big-screen films (Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris in 1976; Lindsey Lohan and Jamie Lee-Curtis in 2003), as well as a stage musical and two TV movie versions.
For the musical theater adaptation, Disney scored a major coup with composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning authors of "Next to Normal."
Together with book writer Bridget Carpenter ("Friday Night Lights"), Kitt and Yorkey smartly updated "Freaky Friday" to this decade and raised the stakes for everyone. They also skirted perilously close to a lot of serious teenage issues (life-threatening dares and drug use are fleetingly touched upon), so their "Freaky Friday" is more of a "PG" show than a "G-rated" one.
At Williams Street Rep, slouchy teenager Ellie Blake (Jordan Nazos) starts out narrating the show, only to be interrupted by her micromanaging mother, Katherine (Catherine Yore). Ellie resents how her widowed bride-to-be mom is trying to promote her wedding to nice guy Mike (Joe Lehman) as a way to further her design career. Meanwhile, Katherine is appalled that Ellie asks to skip the rehearsal dinner to compete in her school's annual social media scavenger hunt.
But when Ellie and Katherine magically switch bodies, both find out that their respective lives are not as easy as they thought. Ellie as Katherine can't handle high-stakes press interviews and being a parent to her puppet-loving brother, Fletcher (David Daskalov). Meanwhile, Katherine as Ellie has to navigate high school, dealing with her daughter's crush on scavenger hunt master Adam (Levi Skoog) and coping with unforgiving teachers like gym coach Ms. Meyers (Sierra White in the scene-stealing number "Watch Your Back!").
"Freaky Friday" is loads of fun as an alternately perky and serious musical. One moment you're laughing at teenage petulance coming out an adult woman's mouth, and the next you're despairing about lost youth.
As Ellie, Jordan Nazos is great as both a teenager and the take-charge adult inhabiting her body. Oddly, Catherine Yore seems to be more comfortable channeling teenage Ellie than playing the high-maintenance career woman at the start.
Both Nazos and Yore have amazing voices as they belt out the catchy and contemporary songs. These leading ladies are also ably surrounded by an energetic and eager cast assembled by director Kent M. Lewis and choreographer Natalie Wisdome.
The production does have a few rough edges. Some shaky scene changes feel intrusive to the action, while the magical body switching lighting effect doesn't really amaze.
But Williams Street Repertory largely does a fine job with professionally premiering "Freaky Friday" to local audiences. Porchlight Music Theatre will have a lot to live up to when it presents the Chicago premiere next April.
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Location: Williams Street Repertory at Raue Center for the Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake, (815) 356-9212 or rauecenter.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 1. No show Saturday, Aug. 17.
Running time: About two hours and 20 minutes with intermission
Tickets: $39.50; $6 students ages 18 and under
Parking: Area parking lots
Rating: Parental guidance suggested for fleeting references to hormones and teenage misbehavior