The latest at The Aurora Fox Arts Center has been a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait.
The theater had just begun rehearsals for “Disney’s Freaky Friday the Musical” about two years ago when the pandemic ground show business everywhere to a halt. Now the show is up and running with a production that dazzles.
The Fox pulled out all the stops for “Freaky Friday,” which had a cast of 22, enough to cover the stage during the ensemble dance numbers. The musical is based on both the 1972 Mary Rodgers novel of the same name and the three subsequent Disney film adaptations (the most famous being the 2003 movie starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis).
The musical borrows the basic plot points of the movie — a widowed mother and her spunky teenage daughter magically switch bodies the day before the mother’s wedding to a new man and have to navigate each other’s lives as they figure out how to reverse the enchantment. The details are slightly different, however — in this adaptation the mother (Katherine Blake) runs a catering business that she hopes will get a boost from wedding publicity and the daughter (Ellie) is a struggling student trying to get her crush, Adam to notice her and her mom to let her go on a schoolwide scavenger hunt the night of the rehearsal dinner.
After switching bodies courtesy of an hourglass that Ellie’s late father left her, Katherine has to navigate high school as Ellie tries to charm a magazine reporter covering her upcoming nuptials. Along the way they have to attend a parent-teacher conference in each other’s bodies, find Ellie’s little brother Fletcher when he runs away and try to reverse the swap before Katherine walks down the aisle. Can they do it? The plot will be familiar to many, especially those who were young in the early aughts, but the enjoyment is in watching it all unfold live on stage.
“Freaky Friday” should be appropriate for audiences of all ages, making it suitable for a family night out. Though the premise is zany and most of the plot lighthearted, it has an emotional core. The backdrop of much of the plot is the fact that Ellie hasn’t fully coped with the death of her father when she was in middle school, and unlike her little brother isn’t ready to let her mom’s fiance, Mike, into her life. Watching the family grapple with their loss as they move forward into a new chapter is genuinely touching.
But not to worry, there are plenty of comic moments too, most of them fueled by the high school drama propelling the musical. Mercifully, the young actors don’t borrow too heavily from the Disney school of acting and deliver performances that are funny and sweet without being over the top. Elton Tanega does a pitch-perfect job playing the teen heartthrob Adam and is a perfect combo of goofy and charming. Steph Holmbo might have the most fun role as Savannah, Ellie’s archenemy and stereotypical mean girl.
The most impressive acting performances are naturally those of Hannah Dotson (originally Ellie) and Sharon Kay White (originally Katherine) who have the difficult task of coming across believably as a mother and daughter while pretending to be in opposite bodies. The pair do an impressive job channeling the mannerisms of someone much older or younger than themselves for the majority of the 2-hour plus runtime.
Much of the dialogue is set to music, with the two acts containing a whopping 30 songs. The lyrics are catchy and the performers pull off their lines and songs with equal aplomb.
The most impressive (and fun to watch) numbers are when everyone or almost everyone is on stage at the same time for an ensemble piece, which feels particularly novel after the last several years. The hardest working cast members might be the behind-the-scenes crew managing props and costumes, who do an excellent job transitioning the stage rapidly between several different settings. The musical also makes use of screens built into the side walls of the theater, which project photos and videos of the cast members during some scenes. The high-tech effects weren’t a necessary component of the production and could have been slightly better integrated, but were put to humorous use several times throughout the show.
This is the last show at the Fox until the fall, when the 38th season will launch with a gala night in September. For the first time since 2020, the upcoming season will include four shows on the main stage and two one-woman performances in the Fox’s studio theater. The lineup will include “The Year of Magical Thinking,” an adaptation of Joan Didion’s stunning memoir about the sudden death of her husband, the Colorado premiere of “Toni Stone,” a play about the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues and a new musical adaptation of Treasure Island.
“The past two years have pushed the boundaries of what we thought we were capable of, as individuals and as a community,” Aurora Fox executive producer Helen R. Murray said in a news release. “Our season will celebrate the strength of the human spirit with stories of the exact kind of bravery we all have shown throughout recent years and events.”
Tickets and Season ticket passes are currently on sale at aurorafox.org.
If you go
Runs through May 22, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Approximate 2 hour and 20 minute runtime, including 15 minute intermission
Adult tickets $28-$40, $20 for seniors 60+, military and students
Purchase online at aurorafox.org or by calling 303-739-1970
Masks recommended but not required.