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CHS presents new musical adaptation of ‘Freaky Friday’

The Claremont High School Theatre department is closing out its season with the California high school premiere of a new musical production of Freaky Friday.

The show opened Thursday, and continues at 7:30 p.m. tonight and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Pomona College’s Bridges Auditorium, 450 N. College Way, Claremont.

Based on the 1972 book by Mary Rodgers, Freaky Friday is the story of a mother and daughter who switch bodies, and the comedy and insights that ensue.

The durable tale has been adapted into two features films, in 1976 and 2003, a 1995 TV movie, and is currently in development at Disney for yet another TV movie.

The new musical adaptation hews close to the story of the book, and was penned by Brian Yorkey, the writer behind 2008’s Pulitzer Prize and triple Tony Award-winning Next to Normal (with music by Tom Kitt), and Netflix’s controversial teen drama 13 Reasons Why.

Claremont is one of just two high schools nationwide (the other was in Wisconsin) that were given the chance to mount the high school premiere of Mr. Yorkey’s take on Freaky Friday.

Since it’s a premiere, “we have a lot of people in Southern California coming to see it,” said longtime CHS Theatre Director Krista Elhai. “I think it’s really going to be a hot commodity with other high schools and colleges.”

The story focuses on a widowed mother and her rebellious teenage daughter, who—surprise!—are at loggerheads. At the top of the show they switch roles and spend the next 24 hours in each other’s bodies.

“It’s a good message to appreciate other people,” said Ms. Elhai.

Although it’s owned by Disney, the new adaptation might surprise some theater-goers.

“I think musically, it’s not a real traditional Disney show,” Ms. Elhai said. “There’s a little bit more of an edge to it. It’s very eclectic. There’s a lot of different styles.”

Unlike almost every production CHS has ever mounted, the troupe had virtually no source material on which to base their portrayals.

“It’s been interesting because there’s only two people working on this show out of 200 that have ever seen this musical,” Ms. Elhai said.

Nothing exists on YouTube, and save a couple of actors, nobody has had the opportunity to see the new adaptation. Also, since the recording of the score hasn’t yet been released, CHS is using live musicians instead of pre-recorded tracks.

“So, we’re going back to our days of using a live orchestra, which is great. We haven’t done that in a long time,” she said. CHS Choir Director Joel Wilson is conducting an orchestra made up of a mix of students and professionals.

Another challenging aspect of the new adaptation was the necessity of having to create the set whole cloth. Often with CHS productions, sets are rented from various sources, mostly local.

This time though, nothing was available since the production was brand new. CHS’s tech crew and outside builders made the entire set themselves.

“We hired a former student to build this magic hourglass that glows, which was fun,” Ms. Elhai said. “It’s been great to come up with our own concepts.”

It’s unusual for a CHS, or any high school for that matter, to premiere a major musical. It came about after Ms. Elhai saw the world premiere last year at La Jolla Playhouse and fell in love with it, she said.

She knew the massive theater performance licensing house Music Theatre International owned the rights. But she also knew that she sat on a national board with the company’s vice president.

“I really harassed him for the rest of spring,” she said. “I just kept bugging him.”

Four days after school got out last year, she got the word that CHS had secured the rights.

Production costs for Freaky Friday are about $35,000, with licensing making up 30 to 40 percent of that. Pomona College does give CHS quite a price break on Bridges’ rental fees.

“They were very generous,” Ms. Elhai said. “That is huge, because I think Bridges full freight is $3,000 per day, and we end up being in there 11 days,” she said. “They’re just great. And pretty much all of Bridges tech staff, they were my students too, so that makes for a great relationship as well.”

The hope is the buzz about the premiere helps to fill the four shows at the 2,400 seat Bridges Auditorium.

“It’s been a great experience and we’re really lucky,” Ms. Elhai said. “If this goes well it looks like we’re going to be able to do another new release next year.”

She was in negotiations for that as we spoke Tuesday and hopes to have it finalized in the next two weeks.

No conversation with Ms. Elhai, who has been theater director at CHS for 25 years, is ever complete without mentioning the elephant in the room.

“I can guarantee you I will not be here after two years,” she said when asked about her long-rumored retirement. “That’s after 36 years [of teaching]. That’s all I’ve got. It’s been a pretty good run.”

Freaky Friday continues at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Bridges Auditorium, 450 N. College Way, Claremont. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for seniors and students, and $8 for kids under 12. Visit chstheatre.cusd.claremont.edu or the Bridges Auditorium box office to purchase tickets. The season-ending show repeats tomorrow at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com