The idea of body swapping isn’t something new. But it is a tale that has always been interesting, as we’re always curious about living in somebody else’s shoes.
Based on 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers, Disney has retold the mother-and-daughter body swapping story ‘Freaky Friday’ on-screen 4 times in 1976, 1995, 2003, and more recently in 2018. The 2018 film is based on the 2016 stage musical ‘Disney’s Freaky Friday: The Musical’ and this month this version had its Victorian debut by production company Theatrical at Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel.
With music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, and book by Bridget Carpenter, with this production directed by Bronte Regos Thiele, Disney’s Freaky Friday: The Musical follows daughter Ellie played by Lyla Digrazia, and mother, Katherine played by Stephanie Powell, who are both at a pivotal moment in life.
A few years after Katherine’s husband and Ellie’s father had passed away, Katherine is ready to move on and marry her new partner Mike, played by Michael Gray. Ellie and Katherine always seem to fight though and never see eye-to-eye. While Ellie is keen on playing a school quest ‘The Hunt’ with her friends, Katherine is focused on preparing for her wedding, even doing her own catering.
Like any body swapping story, there is always a little magic involved. For this version of Freaky Friday, the magical component is in the form of an hourglass that was given to Ellie by her father. When the pair swap, chaos ensues, but for the entirety of the story and the production, audiences are guaranteed in for a fun time.
I’m already a fan of Tom Kitt’s compositions in musicals with his previous works including the striking Next to Normal, so with Freaky Friday, I knew I was going to love the music and songs regardless. However, I didn’t expect for the main cast of Theatrical’s production to be so impressive. Lyla Digrazia is great as Ellie, but she’s even better when she becomes Ellie’s mother, Katherine. The way that she changes her mannerisms and body language, it’s not hard to tell who Digrazia is playing because she portrays both characters so differently.
The same goes with Stephanie Powell when she switches from up tight and possible bridezilla Katherine to the young, vibrant, rebellious, and carefree teenage Ellie. The way that Powell also breaks the fourth wall, gesturing to the audiences at certain moments with her various facial expressions is also brilliant, as it makes audiences feel more involved and part of the story.
Digrazia and Powell have excellent chemistry on stage together, regardless of which switched characters they’re playing, and their voices are quite phenomenal. I had not seen either actress before but after seeing this show, I am really excited to see what both do in the future. I also was happy to see Michael Gray again, his voice has impressed twice-over, with my first experience to his talents in Theatrical’s previous production If/Then. Michael plays Mike, the husband-to-be and father role so perfectly, but he also takes up two other minor characters when he isn’t the love interest, and his execution is so flawless.
Other great performances include Ellie’s younger brother Fletcher, played by Nathaniel Calleja who is simply adorable with his puppets and his different accents for them. I also found Thomas Martin impressive in his role as Adam. In the second act, he really shines with his ear-pleasing voice and his character’s glowing aura of kindness. It was hard not to smile whenever Martin would take the stage. Of course, this was only enhanced by the cast sighing in tune whenever Adam would arrive, like he’s some magical unicorn or being, but hey, I loved every moment of it.
It’s productions like Theatrical’s that remind me some shows are done purely out of love for theatre, and it’s clear to see when the entire cast are on stage and really look like they’re having fun. Granted, I did feel a little worried when everyone would spread out that the set would be accidentally knocked down with how claustrophobic everything felt, but my worries were for naught, as the show was performed without any hiccups, and I may have gotten a little teary at the end by how sweet the story is.
Overall, Theatrical’s production of Freaky Friday is a real treat for fans of the Freaky Friday story, for Disney die-hards, and musical lovers. Ideal for the whole family, this is one fun and delightful musical this year that you don’t want to miss.
Theatrical‘s production of Freaky Friday is on now in Melbourne at Chapel Off Chapel until the 18th of September.
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Photography by Evangeline Kepler Studios.