BRIGHAM CITY — Theatre goes in cycles, and as much as we try to avoid it, there always seems to be those one or two shows that everyone is producing for whatever reason. It’s like a flavor of the month club, and it could be argued that there are pros and cons to this bandwagon style of community theatre. One community does the show, lots of people see it, think ‘that’s a fun show, we should do it!’. You know where to rent or borrow props and costumes, your community base gets excited because they’ve just seen friends or family in that show and there’s a part that’s perfect for them, too! But the flavor of the month can become stale or bland. Care must be taken to avoid cookie cutter productions or flavorless copies.
Freaky Friday is a current show that falls into this pattern. With a book by Bridget Carpenter, music by Tom Kitt, and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, this incarnation is based on the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers and several Disney film versions. As a live theatre piece, there are real flaws: too many locales, too many side characters, no real villain, and awkward scene changes. The Brigham City Fine Arts Center has put their hand to this fan favorite with mixed results. The Fine Arts Center is a small-scale venue tucked just off Main Street and housed in a modest building that would be easy to miss unless you knew it was there.
The performing space seems to be a multi-purpose room that is living its best life as a theatre for now. It’s cozy and friendly, seating about 100 at first glance. The audience ranges around three sides of a flat playing area with a slightly raised platform at the fourth side. The whole set up feels a touch like a junior high school gymnatorium, with better acoustics. Thrust stages are fun and give the actors and audience members alike a new perspective and opportunity for closer intimacy during the show. But it can also detract from the performance if you get stuck looking at actors’ backs the whole night, as was often the case in this production. I was seated in the downstage front section of the audience, and thus my view was perfect. However, anyone who was seated in either side section (comprising two thirds of the potential audience) got the shaft. Director Laura Anderson blocked every scene oriented directly downstage and placed as far downstage center as possible which created unfortunate sightlines for most of the patrons.
Anderson did a good job in casting the show. Harriet Bauer as Ellie Blake and Amy Turner as Katherine Blake were both standout performers who carried the show from start to finish. Bauer and Turner had a great handle on their character’s physicality and expression, and when their characters switched bodies while under the spell of the hourglass, were able to keep their mannerisms consistent, which greatly added to the fun and believability of the storyline. These two ladies were the highlight and driving force behind the production. Turner especially had a great sense of angsty awkward teenager, and Bauer had a powerful voice that portrayed Ellie’s/Katherine’s thoughts and emotions well.
Other performances worth noting were Spencer Bawden as Mike, Katherine’s patient and long-suffering fiancé, who managed to convey a caring would-be step-father vibe without being creepy or cheesy, and Janelle Wiser as Torrey, Katherine’s high-strung and excitable assistant trying to hold her boss and her boss’s wedding together when everything else seems to be going to pot. Wiser had great dancing skills and vocal chops as well. The teen ensemble and the adult ensemble all played multiple parts and did a fine job distinguishing their various characters, Colton James Kraus was charming as Adam, and his duet with Fletcher, played by Zane Merkley, was sweet. Merkley was cute as Fletcher, Ellie’s annoying and quirky little brother, but was very difficult to understand. I missed almost everything he said, unfortunately.
The rest of the production staff appeared to be a tight-knit group of people who all pitched in to make the show happen. Costumes, lighting, props and sound design were all sufficient to their task of establishing time and place and character. The musical minus tracks were fine under the songs but too loud under the dialogue. Most leading characters wore microphones, which ought to have been unnecessary in such an intimate space and gave their voices a tinny quality. The choreography by Daphne Dixon was energetic and cute, didn’t advance storyline much, but didn’t detract from it either.
Overall this production of Freaky Friday is fun and a good example of a community pulling together to create a great memory and shared experience. It won’t set the pond on fire (this isn’t that kind of show), but has some terrific performances and entertaining moments. Fans will enjoy watching friends and family perform, and have a good time to boot. You might sing along with your favorite songs and remember to value the mother/daughter relationship as they navigate change and growth and family love.