It may be critic-proof. Bridget Carpenter’s (book), Tom Kitt’s (music), and Brian Yorkey’s (lyrics) new musical comedy is undemanding and thoroughly predictable — even if you haven’t read Mary Rogers’s 1972 novel, seen the 1976 Disney movie, the 1995 TV version, or the 2003 Disney remake.
“Walk a mile in my shoes.” The story hearkens back to Shakespeare’s women disguised as men. They see the world from a completely different perspective. Here the switch has greater possibilities: a mother and daughter change bodies. On Friday the 13th, thanks to a large, strange hourglass that suddenly goes green, slacker Ellie (Emma Hunton) becomes her micromanaging mother, Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff), and vice versa.
They bounce through many — okay, too many — scenes as each other and, of course, come to understand the other’s point of view. And the world is a better place.
It’s an innocuous piece, done with stopwatch precision at the La Jolla Playhouse, thanks to inventive director Christopher Ashley, choreography by Sergio Trujillo, and Beowulf Borwitt’s upside-down set that views the world through a fish-eye.
It just isn’t very freaky.
Mother and daughter want “Just One Day” without the other. Not even that: Ellie wants just 12 hours of Katherine not nagging her (Ellie says her mother “grew up pretty, thin, and smart” and Ellie isn’t). Katherine, soon to be married, wants one day with a united family so her wedding will be perfect and achieve “total awe.” The rousing song “Just One Day,” performed by the entire company, opens the show on a high note. But then, with few exceptions, every other song gets hammered with the same intensity, as if each were the finale.
Tom Kitt’s eclectic score’s a potpourri of popular genres from the ’60s and ’70s. Brian Yorkey’s lyrics are always crisp and often funny, though the over-miked cast and live orchestra tend to blur the words. Kitt and Yorkey created the wonderful rock musical Next to Normal, which takes on familial dysfunction and bipolar disorder — and opens with the song “Just Another Day.” Compared to that multi-award winner, Freaky could be re-titled Right at Normal. The musical has a safety net beneath it. No matter what happens, never fear. Things will work out, all scars will heal.
One song defies the show’s chipper tone. While in Ellie’s body, Katherine sings “Parents Lie” to her son Fletcher: “Mine lied to me, and I lied to you.” Compared to the rest of the score, this is raw, Next to Normal stuff: there may be monsters under the bed after all, since no one checks. And Santa Claus?
The song comes as a jolt, a blast from the present shot into the bubble-gum nostalgia for the past. You can almost hear the creators elated to break from the inherited material and shake the status quo and shake a few rafters.
Playing through March 12