Review: Freaky Friday

Celeste Rose in Freaky Friday                                                                              Photo by KO Rinearson

By Larry Laneer
June 27, 2018

The musical Freaky Friday hews to the tradition of good-natured little shows you can’t help but like, if only a little bit. It’s a Disney product, so it sports a reliable quality level without being awe-inspiring. That said, the show definitely has more substance than some of the Mouse’s musicals adapted from animated films.

With music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Brian Yorkey, and book by Bridget Carpenter, the show was inspired by the 1972 youth novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers (daughter of Oklahoma! composer Richard Rodgers) and two Disney films of the same title. But the musical shares with the novel and films only the premise of a mother and her teenage daughter switching bodies for a day. Other than that, it’s a quite different story.

The Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma production now at the Thelma Gaylord is one of the first few stagings since the show opened in 2016. No one can accuse Lyric of not doing the show justice. In fact, the company may be making this musical look better than it really is.

Michael Baron directs, and he keeps the action moving, abetted by his artistic designers. Katie Sullivan’s emblematic, op-art scenic design includes several rolling set pieces that allow a smooth flow through many scene changes. (The first act has 18 musical numbers. Granted, one is about two seconds long.) But Helen Kuukka’s lighting design amps up the look and feel of the show. She employs a modern palette and some projections. The scenery and lighting verge on being stand-alone works of art themselves. Take away the cast and the music, and you’d still have an evening’s entertainment (I think).

But the production would be a much lesser show without actors of the caliber of Jennifer Teel (as the mother) and Celeste Rose (as the daughter). Equally accomplished actors and singers, Teel and Rose make the body switch exceptionally convincing. They also switch attitudes, mannerisms, vocal inflections, and body language and maintain them for almost two-and-a-half hours.

The supporting cast is fine. Maggie Spicer plays the assistant in a wedding planning business with delightful insecurity. The reliable Mateja Govich is the mother’s fiancé, a plot change from the novel and films. The young Noah Waggoner gives an extraordinarily sensitive—and brash—performance as the daughter’s little brother. As one of the teenage daughter’s antagonists, Madison Hamilton, in a strong performance, reflects how the musical has been brought into the present.

The updated story involves parental death, mean girls, bullying, and body image issues, among others. But it also has such usual high-school show elements as (perceived) maternal nagging, a boy crush, and a frog dissection in biology class. Late in the first act, the daughter (in the mother’s body) dashes her little brother’s hopes and aspirations in the song “Parents Lie.” It’s amusing and wince-inducing.

But whatever the show and the Lyric staging are, they are thoroughly modern. The production ends with the entire cast taking a selfie.

Freaky Friday by Tom Kitt (music), Brian Yorkey (lyrics), and Bridget Carpenter (book)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
2:00 p.m. Sunday, through July 1
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.