KAYSVILLE — Hopebox Theatre has the biggest heart of any theater in Utah. They are a non-profit community theater dedicated to raising money for cancer victims. The recipient for their production of Freaky Friday is Sara Christensen, who is having a double mastectomy in November due to breast cancer. The warmth and goodness of Hopebox’s mission permeates every production. Nobody leaves without a smile on their face.
It helps that the shows are good, too. At the center of their production of Freaky Friday is a magnificent performance by Anna Peacock as Ellie. Peacock has a powerful, gorgeous voice that fills the theater and instantly commands attention. In addition to her fabulous acting and singing, Peacock also seems to actually be a teenager, as opposed to the adults that other Utah theaters have recently used in the role.
This musical version of Freaky Friday will be fairly familiar to fans of the classic movies, although it has been significantly overhauled for the digital era. It was created for the stage in 2016 with a book by Bridget Carpenter, music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. While the show oddly never ran on Broadway, it was turned into a Disney Channel movie.
The familiar plot revolves around a fateful day when a teenage girl and her mom (played by Sal Duncan) mysteriously switch bodies and subsequently learn some important lessons by literally walking in each others’ shoes. There is a ton to like about the show. First, there’s the script that is packed with clever jokes for all ages and tastes. The songs themselves range from hilarious to tear jerking. On the funny side, parents and kids uncover each others’ secret vices in, “Busted,” and in, “Oh Biology,” high schoolers sing about hormones while dissecting frogs in biology class.
Most of the cast is made of minor characters and Ellie’s high school classmates. Every time I visit Hopebox, the thing that amazes me most is how natural and loose the chorus is, which seems to be mostly made of local high schoolers. I’ve never seen background actors enjoying themselves like at Hopebox. It’s extremely impressive and brings much joy to the productions.
The show has some tonal oddities that are best understood by the fact that it was a Disney Channel show. That helps explain why some minor adult characters are bizarre caricatures while everyone else acts fairly normal. The mean-spirited coach who berates students feels particularly out of place. There are a few misses in the score, too, especially the bizarre and objectifying, “Women and Sandwiches.” The “Bring My Baby Home” scene where everyone stands around instead of frantically looking for a lost child is also weird, although it does give Peacock a chance to show off her dynamite pipes.
But these whiffs are greatly outweighed by the score’s successes. In addition to the aforementioned gleeful group numbers, the ballads, “Parents Lie,” and, “After All of This and Everything,” are devastatingly poignant. There are small musical delights along the way, too—like the way mom and daughter swap notes as they swap bodies, and Katherine-as-Ellie’s musical aside, “Dear me, I had three slices of that pizza!”
Set design by Curtis Dalton was ingeniously efficient. Sets were made from four large rectangular blocks on wheels, which were rotated to create four different scenes. For high school, they were lockers and classroom doors. For home, a fridge and an oven. It was a clean, quick, and cost-effective way to do scene changes. As for costumes (by Jamila Hole Lowe), the best one by far was for the wedding magazine writer played by Brittany Carroll. Her cropped leather jacket and platinum pixie cut went a long way to creating a solid character, and Carroll herself was excellent onstage.
The show was directed by Michelle Robbins with several dance numbers choreographed by Devyn Warburton. One of the cast’s and crew’s biggest successes was the number, “Somebody Has Got to Take the Blame,” where Ellie and Katherine battle some lame-o teachers. The scene worked way better here than in the Hale’s production that I reviewed earlier this year and led to the biggest applause of the night. Speaking of applause, the theater was packed with an enthusiastic crowd, some of whom even made signs to cheer their favorite cast members. I hadn’t seen that one before.
It goes without saying that the show is generally family friendly. However, a few eyebrows will inevitably rise at some of its swearing and sex and drug references. This production is certainly the first Disney family production to use the sentence, “Where did you hide the bong?”
If you haven’t been to Hopebox Theatre, you owe it to yourself and the good of humanity to go enjoy the biggest-hearted community theater in Utah. And donate liberally.