Review: ‘Freaky Friday’ is fabulous fun at Hale Center Theatre

See Disney’s ‘Freaky Friday’ now playing on the Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box Stage at Hale Centre Theatre! 🎭Tickets are going fast. Get yours now before they sell out!⏳⌛️#halecentretheatre #hctorg

Posted by Hale Centre Theatre on Friday, June 21, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY, June 25, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Most of us are familiar with some incarnation of “Freaky Friday,” the classic story of a mom and teenage daughter who magically swap lives for a day with the help of a mystical hourglass.

I personally had the 1972 book by Mary Rodgers, and read it a ridiculous number of times. There were also film adaptations in 1976 and 2003, the first with Jodie Foster, who I idolized, the second with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis. What I didn’t know that there is now a musical adaptation of Disney’s “Freaky Friday,” first produced in 2016.

The show is running at Hale Centre Theatre’s Mountain America Performing Arts Centre in Sandy, on the Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box Stage through Aug. 24.

“Freaky Friday” tells the story of a mom and daughter mystically switching bodies and struggling to live each other’s lives for one day, while desperately trying to figure out how to switch back.

Katherine, the mom, is an overwhelmed widow and mother of two trying to be the bride, wedding planner, caterer, florist and decorator at her upcoming wedding. Ellie is Katherine’s rebellious teenage daughter who feels more than ready to take on the world. As they trade places, Katherine and Ellie learn of the other’s challenges and grow to appreciate each other more.

With music and lyrics by the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning team, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, and a book by Bridget Carpenter, the musical was developed by Disney Theatrical Productions and has been produced in four U.S. cities since opening in Virginia.

And I have to say, the Hale production is an absolute joy and a treat for all ages. First and foremost, the cast is jaw-dropping.

The mom, Katherine, is played on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday (we saw the show Thursday) by Korianne Orton Johnson. Orton Johnson studied at Brigham Young, and now has a resume as long as my arm of regional theater appearances and tours, but is new to Hale. Her vocals are astonishing and dynamic; paired with that is a razor sharp sense of comic timing but also the ability to mine the more emotional moments of the play and really help us connect with the story. I hope to see more of her on Utah stages soon.

I’d feel bad for the actor paired with Orton Johnson if she too, wasn’t completely outstanding. Bailee Johnson plays Ellie, and from the moment she steps on stage, she’s captivating. She too has a totally powerhouse voice that belies her years and blends beautifully with Orton Johnson in the duets. The bluesy song “Bring My Baby (Brother) Home” in the second act is a showstopper. Johnson successfully inhabits the character of her mother for most of the play, but again, she also takes the play’s more reflective moments and really makes them poignant.

The show is genuinely worth seeing just for these two performances, but it also has a great deal more going for it. There’s some fun smaller roles: Toby Worland, who is about to enter the fourth grade in real life, is sassy and self-assured as Ellie’s little brother Fletcher. He effectively has three roles, since he carries around two puppets, who have their own personalities (kudos on the spot-on British accent.)

The director, Rodger Sorensen, who is making his Hale Centre Theatre directing debut, does an excellent job. He lets his actors have a ton of fun, particularly Orton Johnson when she’s playing her daughter Ellie, but he also really highlights some of the more serious themes of the play: dealing with grief and loss when you’re a teen, body image, anxiety, and also the increasingly difficulty of connecting with your teen in a digital age.

The production values are also imaginative and exciting. The set for some reason reminded me of a vintage video game, with staircases and gantries and chunks of bright jazzy colors. There’s also a spinning wheel of projections on the back wall that depict the different scenes with bright, cartoony illustrations. The lighting really serve to enhance the bold backdrops, and designer Danna Barney gets to have some fun with moments like the body swap between mother and daughter.

The sound design by Skyler Morgan was effective. The night we saw there were a couple of mic issues that I’m sure will be smoothed out as the run goes on.

It’s not that often you see a show that you could genuinely take any age to and they would have a great time. As a family show, it’s a great night out, ‘cos it will have you singing and laughing but there’s also room for some interesting conversations between kids and their parents afterwards, but my husband and I had an adult date night and he came out raving about it too. I highly recommend it.

The Hale will present more than 80 consecutive performances of “Freaky Friday”; performance times are 7:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday with many weekday matinees at 4 p.m. and weekend matinees at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. No children under the age of five are permitted in the theater. Ticket prices are $36-$44 for adults and $18-$24 for youth ages five through 17.

For ticket information call 801-984-9000, go to hct.org, or visit the box office at 9900 S. Monroe Street in Sandy City. Season tickets are on sale for the remaining shows of The Hale’s 2019 season of entertainment which includes “Cinderella,” “Phantom,” and “Seussical.” Tickets for the 2020 season will be on sale soon.

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