BWW Review: DISNEY'S FREAKY FRIDAY Gets The Chaffin's Barn Musical Treatment

BWW Review: DISNEY'S FREAKY FRIDAY Gets The Chaffin's Barn Musical Treatment
Anna Carroll, Daniel Light, Bradley Gale
and Martha Wilkinson

Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, Nashville's iconic professional theater, opens its 2018 season - its 52nd! - with an entertaining, if somewhat overly long, production of Disney's Freaky Friday, the new musical with a starry musical theater pedigree.

With music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the same team who created the critically acclaimed and Tony Award-winning next to normal - and a book by Bridget Carpenter that's inspired by both the 1976 and the 2003 films of the same name, which in turn were based upon the novel by Mary Rodgers, herself a member of theatrical royalty (she wrote Once Upon a Mattress, and is the daughter of Richard Rodgers, who with Oscar Hammerstein II wrote such classic musicals as Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific and The King and I, and the mother of Adam Guettel, who wrote Floyd Collins and The Light in the Piazza - Freaky Friday seems a natural choice for a musical theater treatment. And given its Nashville connections (Belmont University musical theatre alumna and Broadway star Katie Ladner and Middle Tennessee State University graduate and native Nashvillian Sherri L. Edelen were among original cast members of the premiere production at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, in 2016), it's a perfect choice for the Chaffin's Barn treatment from director Bradley Moore, choreographer Everett Tarlton, music director Kelsi Fulton and their team of designers, musicians and actors.

Telling the story of an overworked mom and her somewhat rebellious teenage daughter (Ellie, who's actually not a bad kid at all, played with warmth and confidence by Anna Carroll) who, by some stroke of magical fantasy, trade places with each other the day before the widowed mom (Katherine, played with her customary and skillful versatility by Martha Wilkinson) is set to marry a wonderfully upstanding man named Mike (Bradley Gale makes an impressive Chaffin's Barn debut in the role). The hilarity and hijinks that ensue after a mishap with an hourglass originally given to Ellie by her late father magically allows the two women to switch personas is fast-paced and impressively performed.

Director Moore's pitch-perfect cast deliver the goods with style and panache: Wilkinson once again shows her nimble onstage dexterity, effectively playing the older of the two leading ladies, who is an uptight, Type-A personality entrepreneur with an attention to detail and an affection for all things domestic (think a funnier, more musical version of Martha Stewart, if you will). It's the type of role that's long been in Wilkinson's actorly wheelhouse and her thorough commitment to both her characters is fun to watch. Wilkinson fearlessly and seamlessly moves from one characterization to the other.

She's ably matched with Carroll, who exhibits the very same attributes that have made Wilkinson a regional stage favorite for three decades now, and she proves herself an able contender to the throne occupied by Nashville's favorite musical theater actress. As Ellie, Carroll is engaging and entertaining, and as Katherine takes over her body, she easily morphs into the more controlled Katherine. Watching Carroll and Wilkinson together from the show's very first moments immediately draws audiences into the play's rather convoluted plot and they remain in charge and in control throughout the almost two and a half hours of onstage action.

Everett Tarlton's spirited and inventive choreography and Moore's clever direction ensures that every possible inch of real estate on the Chaffin's Barn stage is utilized to best effect and his capable cast of actors move onstage (and through the aisleways and walkways of the venue) with focused energy that propels the story ever-forward, even as some of the songs composed by Kitt and Yorkey threaten to slow it down. Some judicious editing of the oftentimes repetitive lyrics would improve the show's pacing, thus ensuring a better product overall.

BWW Review: DISNEY'S FREAKY FRIDAY Gets The Chaffin's Barn Musical TreatmentKitt and Yorkey's score is pleasantly diverting, even if somewhat forgettable in the manner of all Disneyesque scores, but Act Two's musical program clearly holds the bounty of the show's best numbers.

"I'm Not Myself Today," which opens the show's second stanza gives Katherine and Ellie an opportunity to attempt to explain what's going on in their conjoined life while keeping the truth cloaked - after all, who'd believe their actual explanation? - and Wilkinson, Carroll and the rest of the company are at their best during the song. Will Pope, charming and attractive as the object of Ellie's high-school romantic affections, sings the oddly titled, if delightful, ode to "Women and Sandwiches" that somehow makes a great deal of sense despite its questionable name. Pope is joined by young Daniel Light, who is quite good as Fletcher, Ellie's irascible younger brother who dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian, armed with an arsenal of hand puppets.

"Bring My Baby (Brother) Home" is an imaginative number that is effectively sung and beautifully performed by Wilkinson, Carroll, Gale and police officers played by Brett Myers and Katie Bruno. And Wilkinson and Carroll are each given second act solos (Katherine's "After All of This and Everything" and Ellie's "No More Fear") that puts them squarely in the spotlight, delivering the play's climactic payoff with aplomb.

Moore's altogether impressive ensemble features a tremendous group of local stage favorites to bring the show to life, including the always appealing Christina Candilora as Katherine's put-upon assistant, Jenny Norris as an unctuous wedding magazine reporter, Austin Olive as her photographer, Jenna Pryor and Santayana Harris as Ellie's best friends, Cassie Donegan as high school mean girl Savannah, Devin Bowles as an attention-grabbing minister, and Daniel Carrasquillo, McKenna Driver, Curtis Reed and Angela Madaline-Johnson as a plethora of other characters who populate the musical's setting near Chicago.

BWW Review: DISNEY'S FREAKY FRIDAY Gets The Chaffin's Barn Musical TreatmentDisney's Freak Friday the Musical is an apropos season opener for Chaffin's Barn and it should provide enough musical memories to keep audiences enthralled as the venue closes up shop for six months of much-needed renovations and rehabilitations to the space, before the season picks back up in August with a revival of last season's acclaimed production of Sister Act, followed by the local debut of Newsies and the holiday season offering of Elf the Musical.

Disney's Freaky Friday the Musical. Book by Bridget Carpenter. Music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. Based on Mary Rodgers' book. Directed by Bradley Moore. Musical direction by Kelsi Fulton. Choreography by Everett Tarlton. Presented by Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, 8204 Highway 100, Nashville. Through February 17. For tickets and other information, call (615) 646-9977 or go online at www.chaffinsbarntheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes (which includes one 20-minute intermission).

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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