There are many reasons to cheer the arrival of Acadia Community Theater’s (ACT) annual spring musical, which opens on the Mount Desert Island High School Higgins Demas stage, Friday, April 5.
For one thing it’s the ACT spring musical; winter is over! Yay!
For another, it’s a new show. Whoopee!
“Freaky Friday,” based on the movie of the same name — originally starring Barbara Harris and a teenage Jodie Foster, as a mom and daughter who magically switch bodies for a day — should be a brand new theatrical experience for audiences who have maybe had their fill of Annies, Von Trapps, Olivers, and Wizards.
And, perhaps, best of all, it marks the return of Catie Forthofer to the local stage, playing the mother in this story of extreme identify theft.
Forthofer was a middle school student at Pemetic when she first wowed us in the title role of the ACT production of “Annie,” performing what became the gold standard upon which all future Annies — and there have been many— have been measured. She went on to shine in show choir productions and high school musicals — most memorably, in another switcheroo role, as the Pirate Queen in the “The Pirates of Penzance.”
Forthofer graduated from MDI High School six years ago, and went on to get a degree in music education from Millikin University in Illinois. She returned to the local theater scene a couple of years ago, but kept behind the scenes as the musical director for various school show choir productions, including last year’s excellent ACT production of “Seussical” and last fall’s terrific “The Addam’s Family” for the high school, demonstrating that this girl is a dynamo both on and off stage.
One might lament that there are not two Caties — one to star in and another to direct our entertainment — had director Mark Puglisi not enlisted the marvelous Vivian Hyde to direct the vocals for this one.
“I haven’t performed on this stage since my senior year in high school,” Forthofer says, admitting that she’s a bit nervous about being in the spotlight again. “It’s a really challenging role with so many layers to it. I start out as a mom about to get married to her fiancé but am transformed into a teenager trapped in her mom’s body, trying [and largely failing] to behave like the mom.”
Forthofer says she is thrilled to be working again with Hyde, who is not only helping her learn the music for the role but, as a collateral benefit, is teaching her how to teach. “I am really humbled by her,” Forthofer says.
While she co-directed with Puglisi on Seussical last year, she says this is her first time being directed by him.
“I had him as a teacher, in high school, but was never in one of his plays, so this is great.”
Playing her body snatching daughter is Ashley Graves, who somewhat ironically played a mom in “The Addams Family.”
Performing opposite her former vocal director in this show might well be daunting for a young actor, but as they run through several second act numbers during a rehearsal, it’s clear that this young woman can hold her own.
This was primarily a musical run through of Act 2, and the first time the cast had been paired with the pit band, directed by Isabel Bohrer, which contains a few pros including saxophonist Shane Ellis.
The first two attempts at matching the singing with Danielle Robbins’ complex, energetic, choreography — there’s one number that resembles a boot camp workout — are pretty ragged.
“Aggh!” Director Puglisi laments, his head buried in his hands, “I thought we had the steps down on this one, after last Thursday’s rehearsal. “Where’d it go?”
Robbins leaps onto the stage to perform a little choreographic surgery.
The next attempt is much improved, and the director’s brow unfurrows.
With only two weeks until opening night there is a much to be done. The dances need to be locked in and synchronized with the pit. Dialogue and songs have to be memorized — some leads are still on book, which may be understandable given that they all have busy lives either in their day jobs or classrooms (Graves, for example, is also in MDIHS show choir, with state finals coming up next weekend).
There’s a lot to be accomplished in the next 14 days and at one point Puglisi suggests this may be his final show — although one suspects he has threatened such a terrible thing at this point in every production he has directed.
Given his excellent track record, the talent and experience of this ACT ensemble, as well as his musicians and crew, it’s a safe bet everything is going to get done in fine style.
Audiences coming April 5 should expect to have a blast with this new, fun and freaky show.
“Freaky Friday” will be performed at the high school Friday and Saturday April 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. and Sunday April 7 at 2 p.m. It will then move to the Criterion Theatre the following weekend, April 12-13, at 7 p.m. A Saturday matinee is also planned, April 12 at 2 p.m.