SYRACUSE — Freaky Friday, produced by Syracuse City Arts Council, is a musical with music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Brian Yorkey, and a book by Bridget Carpenter. It is based on the popular novel by Mary Rodgers, which has had several movie adaptations over the years. Directed by Heather Sachs, Syracuse’s production has many impressive elements and is great way for local residents to spend their time.
The story (for anyone who missed the novel, the three film adaptations, or UTBA’s eight previous reviews of this show) follows Ellie Blake (played by Kenzie Buckway) and her mom Katherine Blake (played by Danielle Carlisle), who have significant struggles understanding each other after the death of Ellie’s dad and Katherine’s pending remarriage. A magical accident causes the two to live a day in the life of the other, and of course, all kinds of mishaps ensue.
I have seen several productions of Freaky Friday, from community to semi-professional, to Equity level. My child has been in a production, and so I really know this play. One particularly important element to get right is the costuming. Carpenter’s script specifically mentions the appearance and personalities of the two leading characters. I have seen countless costume designers ignore these cues, and not understand how to dress Ellie in the appropriate way of a grungy teenage girl who is not putting in the effort that a mother who is too high strung would wish. My daughter, a costume designer, actually attended Syracuse’s show with me dressed in Ellie cosplay because she shares my frustration about this. So, imagine our delight when the curtain opened, and we saw that Buckway was wearing what almost the same outfit as my daughter. Costume designer Ashlee Worley Fawcett had gave Ellie ripped jeans, a band t-shirt, and flannel that looked like it was found on the floor having not been washed for months. This is exactly what a 16-year-old who “doesn’t make an effort” should be dressed like. Fawcett’s costume choices continued to shine, like when Carlisle changes into a Nirvana shirt, and when Adam (played by Xander Larsen) shows up to the wedding in his hoody and shorts. The teens’ costumes were such good contrast with the adults in the cast, and how showed exactly how the popular kids do dress differently than the rest.
In other regards, Syracuse City’s Freaky Friday set a high standard. Set designer Heather Steed created several aesthetically pleasing set pieces, including a house, the school, and other areas around the city. Adding to the visuals was the really impressive lighting design by Taylor Sachs (who was also the play’s assistant director). At a key moment at the end of the show, there was some lighting choices that added to the magic, and that moment exceled any standards I have for community theatre.
One of my favorite things about Syracuse city is their use of live musicians, and this year did not disappoint. Band conductor Timothy Koster assembled a small but mighty group of musicians to provide the special experience of live music that cannot be found at nearby venues that charge four or five times as much for a ticket. The musicians add so much to the experience of watching a musical, and they make attending the show worth the cost of the ticket.
Buckway as Ellie was such a standout, and I see her as a strong actress and leading character in this show and many more to come. However, one of the difficulties with Syracuse city for many years has been their sound system, and this show was no different. Buckway’s microphone suffered from numerous problems, but she was able to have her voice carry, and even though we were situated in the middle of the high school auditorium, I had no challenges hearing her. Carlisle as her mom was a strong counterpoint, and their chemistry was fantastic. Several of the side characters in the show were also enjoyable to watch.
As with most community theatre shows, the cast was rather large, which can be both a plus and a minus. Sometimes so many people can be distracting on the stage, but it is also a valuable reminder that all of these people chose to create art, rather than sit at home and watch Netflix. Compared to other aspects of the show, Amaris DiScuillio’s choreography was fun and enjoyable, but did not impress as much.
In time, I realized that for the cost of the ticket, Freaky Friday is one of the best deals in town. This show is a fun way to beat the heat and look at complex family relationships, growing up, and understanding. The technical elements really shine, and they even have a Venmo account where audience members can donate to help the group upgrade the sound system.