A la Disney, which developed the new musical adaptation of Freaky Friday, La Jolla Playhouse’s production is sunny and squeaky clean, its wackiness couched in feel-good, family-style lesson learning. You know the lesson learners by now after a children’s book, two feature films and a TV-movie: a disconnected mom and daughter who inexplicably find themselves in each other’s body for a day.
This Freaky Friday, directed by Christopher Ashley with a clever book by Bridget Carpenter, updates the familiar premise with scripted messages about teen-girl body image and female empowerment. As enacted by Heidi Blickenstaff and Emma Hunton as mother Katherine and daughter Ellie, the identity games are comical if not back-slapping, though Blickenstaff’s performance is sensational. Totally tuned in to teenage talk and mannerisms, she makes count every second on stage as the daughter in the mother’s body. Freaky Friday’s music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, however, are a far cry from their towering 2009 Next to Normal collaboration. One number, “Women and Sandwiches,” is outright shuddering, and Freaky Friday’s overly sincere ballads interrupt the antics more than do they layer the story. Still, this is a show that moms and daughters will enjoy and maybe bond over. Nothing wrong with that.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.