Freaky Friday is one of those story people don’t realize they know. For my generation, the movie starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis brought the story to life. For this generation, we have the Kitt, Yorkey, and Carpenter tuner that starred Emma Hunton and Heidi Blickenstaff which became a Disney Channel Original Movie.
I feel badly about this, but my generation had a significantly better version. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey have already won their Tonys, so if Freaky Friday doesn’t necessarily live up to the lyrical brilliance of Next to Normal, we can forgive them. The show is a little clunky despite numerous rewrites, but the Niagara University production is anything but.
It’s refreshing to see young actors play so honestly, and that’s what we have in this production. Director Steve Braddock and choreographer Terri Filips Vaughan have given the outlines, but they’ve left it up to the cast to color inside them. An expertly directed band by, sequestered down the hall, is directed by Dr. Bridget Moriarty. Both her musical ensemble and the ensemble on stage sound terrific.
As angst-ridden and misunderstood teen Ellie, Lindsey Pastuszynski ably illustrates the difficulties of being a modern-day teen. As her busy bread-winning mother Katherine, Sonia Angeli manages to keep the “plates all spinning” (that’s a Next to Normal reference). It’s when the infamous “switch” happens that these two performers shine. Both ladies are great in their roles, but Angeli in particular shines. The book is thoughtful enough that it gives Angeli’s character an emotional act two moment which she does not take lightly. It’s an incredibly mature and aware turn for her.
I’ve mentioned the strength of the ensemble, but the real standouts come by way of Caleb Paxton, Ricardo Garcia, and the young Teddy Hibbard. As Katherine’s soon-to-be-husband Mike, Paxton delivers a touching performance, particularly in Act One’s “Vows.” Garcia is a special surprise; I had the pleasure of his talented older brother Alex as a classmate. He brings a very human touch to the criminally underdeveloped Adam, Ellie’s love interest and the high school’s hero. He also brings a dynamite singing voice. Finally, Nichols eight-grader Teddy Hibbard is an unbelievable treat. He’s handling a very difficult role with ease, puppets and all. It’s a real pleasure to watch, and I’m sure he has a bright future in performing if he so chooses.
All in all, this is the type of show a college should tackle. It should, and I believe did, teach valuable lessons about bringing truth to performances while keeping the integrity and spirit of the script intact. Instead of ad-libbing lines they thought were funnier, or winking at the material for a cheap laugh, the entire cast as a whole chose to embrace the piece, warts and all. And that’s fitting, because the show has a similar message. So excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes; it may be cheesy sentimentalism, but this excellent Niagara University production of a slightly below excellent piece has heart and truth to spare.
Freaky Friday runs until November 3, 2019 and is presented at Niagara University. For more information, click here.