Walnut Creek goes "freaky" with fun new Disney Musical!


By Sam Hurwitt, Correspondent

Posted: 06/01/2018

Who knew “Freaky Friday” would have such staying power? Mary Rodgers’ 1972 novel about a mother and teenage daughter magically switching bodies spawned two popular Disney movies reintroducing the story to different generations, in 1976 and 2003. Now it’s even become a stage musical whose Bay Area premiere closes Center Repertory Company’s 50th anniversary season at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts.

Each adaptation actually tells a substantially different story, with completely different explanations for the body switch. The original novel focuses entirely on the daughter trying to keep up with household duties after waking up in her mom’s body, while what happens on the other end is left mysterious. Subsequent versions have given more equal time to their misadventures in each other’s lives.

It’s interesting that it’s taken this long for the story to become a musical, considering that it already has an impressive musical theater pedigree. Before she started writing children’s books, Mary Rodgers was a musical theater composer, best known for “Once Upon a Mattress.” Her father is composer Richard Rodgers of legendary Broadway partnerships Rodgers and Hammerstein (“The Sound of Music,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” “Oklahoma!”) and Rodgers and Hart (“The Boys from Syracuse,” “Pal Joey”). Her son Adam Guettel is also a successful Broadway composer (“The Light in the Piazza”).

This new musical, which premiered in 2016 in Virginia and is now being adapted into a TV movie for the Disney Channel, has all original songs by the “Next to Normal” team of composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey and a book by playwright and screenwriter Bridget Carpenter (TV’s “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood”).

Like the 2003 movie, the musical is centered around the widowed mother’s impending wedding. (In earlier iterations, the dad is still around.) This time the mom is a hyper-organized caterer who’s designing and catering her own wedding, to be featured in a wedding magazine.

In Center Rep’s lively production directed by Jeff Collister (who’s also the company’s production manager), masterfully multitasking mother Katherine is played with brisk assurance by Lynda DiVito, and with slouchy, surly sass when possessed by daughter Ellie. Olivia Jane Mell similarly does terrific double duty as testy teen Ellie and her comparatively prim and overconfident mother, amusingly at sea navigating high school politics.

Ellie’s obsession in this version is an all-night scavenger hunt organized by her high school crush (charismatic and silky-voiced Dave J. Abrams), to provide an added layer of action atop all the family misadventures, enlivened by Jennifer Perry’s unobtrusive choreography.

Noel Anthony is sweetly plainspoken as fiance Mike, and Tyler Patrick Hennessy is a cheery charmer as puppet-obsessed little brother Fletcher. Alison Quin is entertainingly anxious as Katherine’s assistant, and Emily Serdahl is a swaggering queen bee as Ellie’s high school nemesis.

Much of the ensemble plays many roles, such as Cindy Goldfield as an amiable Grandma and a crusty shopkeeper and Katrina Lauren McGraw as an effusive magazine interviewer and a sadistic gym teacher. Michael McCarty is a tooth-picking, pen-clicking biology teacher, and Mark Farrell is a gruff cop, ineffectual reverend and useless school counselor.

Some songs feel a little gratuitous (do we really need an ode to “Women and Sandwiches”?) but they’re catchy enough that it’s hard to mind getting a little extra, and the cast and the small orchestra led by Daniel Feyer does a terrific job with them. Ellie-as-Mom’s bitter “Parents Lie” is startlingly harsh in breaking her little brother’s heart, and mother and daughter bring down the house with a rocking “Bring My Baby Home.”

Sure, in a cold, cruel world we could probably live without a “Freaky Friday” musical. But if we’re going to have one, we could do a whole lot worse than this thoroughly enjoyable confection.

The Bay Area Premiere of Disney's Freaky Friday Features is a Non Stop Pop Rock Score and a Fun Cast


By Vince Mediaa
June 1, 2018


The Mom and Daughter Disney classic FREAKY FRIDAY comes to Walnut Creek to open the Summer theatre season. The Bay Area premiere is now on stage at Center REPertory through June 30. The high end pop musical brings so much color and fun to the Margaret Lesher stage, with a full throttle company of the Bay's best. Bridget Carpenter’s book, Tom Kitt’s music, and Brian Yorkey’s lyrics bring this new musical comedy its Disney charm. It was a decent read in fluff fiction when Mary Rodgers wrote the best-selling book in 1972. Then Disney turned the novel into a Golden Globe-nominated movie in 1976 starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, in this "twilight zone" view of life in another person’s shoes. It was a sitcom that worked well enough in 2003 when Disney remade the movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.

Directed by Jeff Collister, who says due to the newness of the musical “It has a familiar title—a lot of people know Freaky Friday, even if they haven’t seen it but it’s a new production,” says Collister. “We get to create a show and the characters from the ground up. It’s not like other shows where the character has developed over the years. In Freaky Friday, we don’t know any of these people, so it’s all brand-new material for all of us to discover and figure out.” FREAKY FRIDAY never made it to Broadway so it is rare opportunity for local bay area fans to see this new musical.

FREAKY FRIDAY features local favorite Lynda DiVito and Olivia Jane Mell play both parts, a challenge for both director and actors. The show has a hit pop score with the rousing opener, “Just One Day,” where mom and daughter don’t see eye to eye on anything. Arguing about rules and who’s being unfair to whom, the pair is in constant tension. Katherine is stressing it is just a day away from marrying Mike played by the dapper Noel Anthony, a sweet man who deals with Ellie’s wrath missing her recently deceased father. Divito and Mell show off their excellent voices, as the other supporting cast members are introduced. The scene ends with a fateful wrestling match over that magical heirloom hourglass. “The Hourglass” song is a bit unclear - the switch happens fast and story kicks off its “what if” plot.

Unlike the 2003 film, in this version mom owns a small catering business and her high school daughter is set to spend the night on a scavenger hunt. Ellie sings “I Got This” as she takes on her mother’s role of bossing people around at her catering business, and Kate is a bit stressed to put her wedding aside to go back to high school. Soon enough they realize how hard it is to be in the other’s point of view. Collister and music director Daniel Feyer bring the best out of his two leads, and the feature characters keep this musical delightfully spunky.

DiVito’s character in Ellie's body, works the Gen Z poses and phrases and jittery physicality to perfection. While Mell is not as comfortable when she is the teen age Ellie, but is pure Mom after she makes the switch. It was easier for me to see both actors playing their switched roles. In the song “Busted” the two show us a funny account of parents and kids uncovering the secrets they keep from each other, both actors show off their accomplished voices and comic timing.

We meet the adult players in the song “What You Got” featuring the marvelous Allison Quin as mom’s assistant Torry, the enthusiastic Justin Sabino as Louie the photographer, and the awesome Katrina Lauren McGraw as Alexandra. All the featured cast play a number of roles, Mc Graw is a showstopper when she plays Meyers the Gym teacher, and Sabino kicks up a storm as a dancer in all the highschool numbers. The first rate Emily Serdahl as Savannah the villain in the story and classic "mean girl" gives the teen the perfect edge. The powerhouse ensemble includes the terrific Aubri No’eau Kahlekulu as Laurel, Giana Gambardella as Grethen, Zachariah Mohammed as the colorful Xavier, the keen Bryan Munar as Austin, Katie Turley as Cheyenne, Andrea Dennison Laufer as Hannah, and the likable Nathan Richardson as Parker.

The featured cast is also rich with personality and some switch roles when the story turns into a high school setting. Highlight in this cast include local regular Nick Quintell who is a quick-change riot in multiple roles including the janitor and the spanish teacher with his one perfect solo in “Somebody Has To Take The Blame”. The keen Mark Farrell plays the pastor and a shrink, the ideal Cindy Goldfield is great as Grandma Helene. The silver hair role is played by the smart Michael McCarthy as Grandpa George.

Tom Kitt’s pop score’s a mix of genres from the ’60s and ’70s. Yorkey’s lyrics are always upbeat throughout, with a mix of colorful numbers to get the crowd going. Kitt and Yorkey created the wonderful rock musical Next to Normal, which takes on a moms dysfunction yet this FREAKY FRIDAY family is pure sitcom fun. Ellie messes up her new parenting role with her frisky puppet happy younger brother Fletcher, causing him to run away, we are treated to the, raise-the-roof “Bring My Baby Brother Home.” Fletcher is played by ten year old pro Tyler Patrick Hennessy, who is just back from a national tour of Finding Neverland. Hennessy steals all his scenes with his two hand puppets an especially his break out hit “Shopping With My Mom”.

Divito brings out the laughs with the flawless attempts at teen slang such as the “S’up?” she blurts to heartthrob Adam played by the sizzling Dave J Adams. Adam is smitten with Ellie and loves her mom's sandwiches. Adams steals the show with superb dance moves and his show stopping number “Women and Sandwiches” along with the adorable young Hennessy. Choreographer Jennifer Perry keeps the dance brisk and hopping and the high school numbers including “Oh Biology” hyped with energy and features Adams hip hop class, with Sabino, Mohammed’s and Munars diverse dance skills.

The craft team includes a bright backlit set of windows and icons of new media designed by Kelly James Tighe. Each of the window frames jammed with Roger Anderson’s props that show off a modern 2018 family. Tighe’s set easily transformed from the family home to the halls of Ellies High School. Kurt Landisman light design bloomes with spring pop colors as well as Victoria Livingston-Hall eye candy costumes for the ensemble and the grunge look for Ellie.

Music Director Daniel Feyer has a foolproof pit of nine musicians who brought Tom Kitt’s music that Disney charm. The 20 member cast is pitch perfect and sound designer Jeff Mockus kept the Margaret Lesher Theatre ringing with joy. Stage manager Kathleen J Parsons keeps the rolling set pieces flowing from scene to scene in the two and half hour musical and Perry’s choreography is eye catching and vibrant.

FREAKY FRIDAY delivers on the "twlight zone" high jinks that define this fluffy fun fantasy. The family friendly, wholesome musical fits the Disney mold. With racial, and political divides dominating news, even among our young adult iGen, a story about understanding someone else’s truth is important to challeneng the Trump years. FREAKY FRIDAY ends the CenterReps award winning 50th season. Season 51 begins in August with a hit musical that celebrates the wedding of the century. The producers can’t announce the title at review time, but it opens August 31 and will be directed by the award winning Marc Jacobs. In the meantime start your summer theatre season with DISNEY'S FREAKY FRIDAY family, tickets are selling fast.

The Road to 1000

Freaky Friday - show #736


By Marc Gonzalez

From a book to a film to a film to a musical, Freaky Friday has received its fair share of makeovers and adaptations. However, what has become a timeless Disney favorite is now a sincere, charming, surprisingly self-aware musical hit, with the score written by the Pulitzer-winning team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and supplemented by a well-strung book by Bridget Carpenter. Center Repertory Theatre has brought forth an incredibly talented and committed cast and team, led by two dynamite female leads, in their production of this freaky story of a daylong, mother-daughter, personality-body swap. Director Jeff Collister and Choreographer Jennifer Perry have helmed this Freaky Friday in seriously fun fashion. What makes Disney musicals work so well is when the production team understands the balance between campy dialogue and underlying life lessons. Mr. Collister and Ms. Perry have staged the production in such a way that allows for the right lyrics and dialogue to take precedence over the more expected “Disney-esque” verbiage. These decisions, complemented by Ms. Perry’s excellent choreography, make for a thoroughly entertaining Freaky Friday.

(Olivia Jane Mell (Ellie) and Lynda DiVito (Katherine); Photo credit: www.kevinberne.com)

Lynda DiVito is a fantastic Katherine Blake, maternal head of the Blake family. Ms. DiVito’s motherly chemistry opposite Olivia Jane Mell’s Ellie, the sole daughter of the Blake family, is impeccable. The complication of the musical is that there is only one number for Ellie and Katherine to establish their quirks and nuances as a high-strung, anal-retentive mother and typically bored, annoyed teenage girl. This establishment is vital to the rest of the musical because once the body switch takes place Ellie’s demeanor must embody that of Katherine’s, and vice-versa. Thankfully, Ms. Mell and Ms. DiVito are strong actresses in physicality, vocal power, and consistency that “Just One Day,” the musical’s opener, gives enough characteristics for the audience to connect to the two leading ladies and enjoy the impending switch during “The Hourglass.” Ms. DiVito is a fierce mother, balancing the immaturity of Ellie with a powerhouse voice, especially in “After All of This and Everything.” Ms. DiVito’s earlier solo, “Parents Lie,” is a more subdued lament sung at the younger brother of the family, Fletcher, allowing for the audience to really see her versatility in acting and vocal chops. Ms. Mell’s turn in “Oh, Biology” is a great performance of vocal talent and comedic talents, and her “No More Fear” serves as a capital stamp of a great leading performance. Early on, Ms. Mell and Ms. DiVito team up for a fantastic duet, “I Got This,” where the two ladies decide and commit to trying to live out the other’s day with as little road bumps as possible. However, with a wedding on deck, a brother who is trying to be a comedic puppeteer, a high school student body that is gearing up for the Hunt (an annual city-wide scavenger hunt), Ellie and Katherine may have bitten off more than they can chew.

(L to R: Mark Farrell (pictured as Officer Kowalski), Katrina Lauren McGraw (pictured as Officer Sitz), Lynda DiVito (Katherine), Olivia Jane Mell (Ellie), Noel Anthony (Mike); Photo credit: www.kevinberne.com)

Noel Anthony delivers a charming performance as Katherine’s fiancé, Mike. Mr. Anthony’s “Vows” is a romantically tender, heartfelt song, and is matched with a healthy dose of comedic reaction from Ms. DiVito as she cringes and pulls away from Mr. Anthony’s swooning affection. The three team up with featured standouts Katrina Lauren McGraw and Mark Farrell for Act Two’s show-stopping “Bring My Baby Home,” an unexpected Gospel lament, begging for Fletcher to return home after he’s run away. Tyler Patrick Hennessy delivers a memorable Fletcher, complete with pinpoint vocals and youthful charisma. “Shoppin’ With My Mom” is a pleasantly-sung, well-acted ditty of a number Mr. Hennessy, a constant stream of youthful earnestness and innocence, uses to his full puppeteering, comedy advantage. Dave J. Abrams is an outstanding Adams, keeper of the Hunt list and object of Katherine’s affection. Mr. Abrams’ Act Two “Women and Sandwiches” is a culmination of his Act One comical obsession with the Blake family sandwiches, and later leads a thrilling, contemplative “Go,” with top-notch vocals and infectious charm. Allison Quin makes the most of her strung-out, stressed Torrey, assistant to Ms. DiVito’s Katherine. Ms. Quin exudes the exact personality tendencies Torrey should have, with a gorgeous voice to boot.

(Dave J. Abrams (Adams) and Tyler Patrick Hennessy (Fletcher); Photo credit: www.kevinberne.com)

Daniel Feyer is more than deserving of applause, as he has music directed the cast with precision and a healthy understanding of how this diverse-genre score should be tackled. Mr. Feyer’s band is stellar in its playing of the score, adding energy and passion to the very fun music. Victoria Livingston-Hall’s costume design is absolutely on point, a design effort that must not go unpraised. Ms. Livingston-Hall has dressed the students, the Blake family, and the supporting characters in a way that is bright, appropriate, inspired, and shows clear-cut intent. When the costume design adds even more character and personality to an already personable, nuanced cast, you know you have a top-notch designer at work. The ensemble is in full force as excellent actor-singer-dancers, executing Ms. Perry’s exciting, number-specific choreography with flare and finesse that is natural, not contrived. What makes Ms. Perry’s choreography so outstanding is that it’s not dance steps for the sake of dance steps (which so many Disney musicals can fall victim to). The choreography, specifically in “Oh, Biology,” “Busted,” “Watch Your Back,” and in the wonderful, “Today and Ev’ry Day” finale, is catered to the comedy and lyrics of those specific numbers. The dance steps are detailed and emphasized in formational stage pictures and crosses that are both aesthetically pleasing and musically entertaining. Freaky Friday may be getting many-a-makeover in its lineage, but I can assure you that the musical adaptation is a family-friendly, all-ages-entertaining musical, and Center Rep is the place you need to see it. Go see this show!

Center REP's Freaky Friday is a Sure-fire hit for the entire family


By Jan Miller

Posted: 06/01/2018

“Freaky Friday,” a new theatrical musical based on the celebrated novel by Mary Rodgers and hit Walt Disney films, is a hilarious, contemporary update of an American classic that follows an overworked mother and teenage daughter on a wild journey after magically swapping bodies. The musical, currently being presented by Center Repertory Company through June 30 at the Lesher Theater in downtown Walnut Creek, CA., is a sure-fire hit for the whole family.

With book by Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) and score by the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then), “Freaky Friday” is a delightfully spunky musical for anyone with a perfectly imperfect family.

“Freaky Friday” features show-stopping performances from the two leads, Linda DiVito and Olivia Jane Mell as a meticulous wedding planner named Katherine and her 16-year-old daughter, Ellie, who is still feeling the effects from the death of her dad from when she was in junior high school. When the two switch roles, DiVito manages to capture all of the mannerisms of a teenage girl, including her awkwardness around her high school crush, Adam (Dave J. Abrams), and consequently gets lots of laughs. Meanwhile, Mell has perhaps a slightly more tricky task of channeling the more reserved role as a stickler mom). Also, both DiVito and Mell have strong soprano voices that truly resonate with the audience.

Many others in the cast play multiple roles, and those who deservedly received standing ovations for superb performances include Dave J. Abrams (as Adam, Ellie’s teenage crush), Mark Farrell (Pastor Bruno, Dr. Ehrin, and Officer Kowalski), Katrina Lauren McGraw (Alexandra Daniels, Ms. Meyers, and Officer Sitz), and Tyler Patrick Hennessy (Ellie’s brother Fletcher Blake).

“Freaky Friday” will no doubt satisfy a target audience of teenage girls and their moms, as one can feel the mother-daughter relationship and the problems in it. Still, as they go along, they resolve to be better and more respectful of each other. Still, “Freaky Friday” it is a fun production for all.

Curtain Calls: Walnut Creek's Center REP ending season with Freaky Friday


By Sally Hogarty

Posted: 06/03/2018

The Center Repertory Company in Walnut Creek is closing out its 50th anniversary season with a fast-paced, energetic production of Disney’s “Freaky Friday.” A slightly different yet very well done production for the company, the show is based on Mary Rodgers’ comedic children’s novel.

Turned into several films and finally a stage version, the show tells of a disorganized, angst-filled teenage girl unhappy about her mother’s impending marriage. Her mother, a widower, is the total opposite — organized to a fault as she runs her catering business.

The day before the wedding the two have another terrible argument, but this time as they play tug-of-war over a large hourglass, the glass breaks and the two magically change places. Needless to say, the daughter is not thrilled about being in her mother’s body. Lots of fun characters, much craziness and more than a little misunderstanding transpires before the magic can be undone.

The music and lyrics of “Next to Normal’s” Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey keep the action humming along with fun dance sequences choreographed by Jennifer Perry. Jeff Collister directs a multitalented cast headed by Lynda DiVito (the mother, Katherine) and Olivia Jane Mell (her daughter, Elile).

It’s always a pleasure to watch DiVito on stage, and here she revels in playing her willful daughter while also showing her incredible vocal dexterity. Mell matches her note for note with her own considerable vocal talents and comedic timing.

The cast has many standouts, including 10-year-old Tyler Patrick Hennessy (Katherine’s son). I had the fun of interviewing him and his family as he performed around the country in the national tour of “Finding Neverland.”

Also adding their talents to the mix are Noel Anthony (Katherine’s patient fiancé), Mark Farrell (a hoot as Pastor Bruno plus others), Dave Abrams (wonderful as Elle’s love interest) and Alison Quinn (Katherine’s long-suffering assistant).

This family-oriented, feel good musical runs through June 30 at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive. It includes lots of fast action, colorful costumes and another fantastic set by the amazing Kelly Tighe.