BAR HARBOR — Something new and freakishly fun has come this way!
The Acadia Community Theater launched its terrific new show this past weekend on the Higgins Demas stage at Mount Desert Island High School.
The show was the Broadway musical version of the film “Freaky Friday,” in which a battling mother and teenage daughter magically switch bodies for 24 hours and learn what it’s like to not merely walk in one another’s shoes, but her feet.
Directed at near-breakneck speed and precision by Mark Puglisi, the show features a lineup of talented students, teachers and community members — topped by the terrific twosome of Catie Forthofer as the micro-managing mom Katherine Blake and Ashley Graves as her disgruntled daughter Ellie. The production, which moves to the Criterion Theatre this coming weekend, is a pure pleasure on every level, managing to be both hilarious and heartwarming.
Although she has kept busy of late putting her magic touch on several local musical events as a director, it has been too long since Forthofer has entertained us on stage.
Neither her acting chops nor her fine vocal instrument have languished since she last appeared on the high school stage six years ago. Her Katherine manages to make the transition from a fussbudget uber-mom to eye-rolling, disaffected adolescent so swiftly and thoroughly we almost believe she has been possessed by a 16-year-old.
As Ellie she is annoyed by almost everything in her life — her mom, her mom’s fiancé Mike (an appealing and patient Thomas Van Gorder) and her kid brother, the puppet-toting Fletcher (a wonderfully quirky Adam Losquadro) — and isn’t loath to express it.
Had Graves not made a similarly great leap from slouchy teen to overbearing mom the imbalance would have capsized the whole show. But she does. To watch her seethe with indignation when her adult peers dismiss her good ideas because she seems to be a kid, and her awkward efforts to navigate in world of teens — especially when it comes to her daughter’s heartthrob Adam (a dreamy Alexander Shepard) — is, like, totes hilarious.
As proof positive that Puglisi, his cast and crew pulled it off, during the last act of the Saturday night performance a child in the audience spotted the object responsible for the magical switcheroo and called out a helpful “there it is!” to the actors on stage who were trying to find it. Clearly the tot was completely engaged in the story, knew exactly what was going on and wanted in on the action.
The music for this show has fun lyrics, by Brian Yorkey, that are at various times hilarious or poignant. They cleverly move the plot forward. The score is also engaging, but it is difficult to sing — even, one imagines, for pros. The two leads, Forthofer and Graves, with help from music director Vivian Hyde and a phenomenal pit orchestra conducted by Isabel Bohrer, manage these songs — several with multiple octave ranges — with nary a false note and impressive projection.
To varying degrees, and never wincingly so, other cast members and the chorus occasionally struggled with pitch and cadence. This should improve with another week to rehearse before the Criterion shows. The choreography by Danielle Robbins is great fun and should get better still.
What needs no improvement are the marvelous costumes by Jaylene Roths, which tell us everything we need to know about these characters they don’t tell us themselves. Oh, those wonderful mean girls’ sassy outfits! And dreamboat Adam’s carefully assembled “casual” ensemble and cap. Also perfect are Ed Dillon’s ingenious set pieces, which come and go like passing thoughts on wheels, taking us in a wink from, say, a buffet dinner to a school science lab where frogs are being dissected to a town fountain or wedding celebration. Speaking of dead frogs, huge kudos to the props crew for finding these and many other handheld necessities.
Musical highlights of the show include virtually all the solos and duets sung by Forthofer and Graves, but perhaps especially Forthofers’ heartbreaking “Parents Lie” and Graves’ “No More Fear.”
For sheer hilarity in the midst of panic is the doo-wop ditty “Bring My Baby Home” complete with a couple of cops as backup dancers (the fetching Mark Carrignan and Brian Booher). Then there was that one perfect high note sung by Josh Howie, which brought the house down, the gym teacher’s (Emily Ellis) boot camp aerobics class, or any time Fletcher opens his, uh, make that his puppet’s mouths, and …. well you just have to go see for yourselves.
You can do just that at the last three shows at the Criterion this Friday, April 12 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. For tickets visit www.acadiacommunitytheater.net or call 288-0829 or at the box office.