A tale of two Ellies: In CMT’s ‘Freaky Friday,’ it’s all about switching and sharing

I’m sitting across from two Ellies. Or is two Katherines?

This is a little confusing.

In the Disney musical “Freaky Friday,” a mother named Katherine and a daughter named Ellie swap souls. The actress who plays Ellie stays the same physically, of course, but for much of the show her “essence” is Katherine. And the same goes for the actress who plays Katherine — part of the time, she’s Ellie.

Pictured above: Aubrey Ham plays Ellie in ‘Freaky Friday.’  Photo: Children’s Musical Theaterworks

Now let’s add another level of complexity with the Children’s Musical Theaterworks version of the new musical, now in its opening weekend at Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Like just about all CMT shows, this one is double-cast. So that means there are two pairs of Ellies and two pairs of Katherines. So does that mean there are really four of each?

Thankfully, Aubrey Ham, 14, and Honoria Felton, 17, are here to walk me through it.


“So we both play the mom, but we’re not actually the mom,” Honoria tells me.

You can see where it can get complicated designating the characters.

We’re at the CMT rehearsal space at the Sierra Vista Mall just a week before opening, and both girls are articulate and excited about their big upcoming roles.

In “Freaky Friday,” a musical adaptation of the 2003 movie starring Lindsey Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, Ellie is a persnickety teen who isn’t too keen on her widowed mother remarrying. Their strained relationship takes a strange metaphysical twist one morning when they each find themselves trapped in the other’s body.

Suddenly Katherine finds herself back in high school in a tight young body, and Ellie finds herself in charge of a catering business and experiencing middle-aged aches and pains.

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(If the musical version of all this sounds familiar, it’s because Fresno hometown Broadway star Heidi Blickenstaff originated the role of Katherine in the professional production and reprised that role in the made-for-TV Disney movie.)

Here’s why I’m a little befuddled: When I scheduled the interview, I somehow got the impression that Honoria and Aubrey play opposite each other at each performance, but alternately switch the roles. In other words: I thought that at one show, Honoria starts off as Ellie (and then “becomes” Katherine), and at the next show, she starts off as Katherine and does the opposite.

That would have been really wild.

And that’s how I begin my line of questioning. But I’m soon corrected.

There are two casts for the show. One is the “Angry Bob” cast and the other the “Caspian.”

When they aren’t playing Ellie, each girl has three secondary characters to play, which means a lot of lines to keep track of.

It must be a challenge to go from playing a teenager during the first few minutes of the show to playing a 40-something mom. How do they do it?

Some of it has to do with physicality.

“A lot of it has to do with posture,” says Aubrey, a student at Minarets High School.

Ellie slouches. Katherine stands up straight, as befitting her uptight and strictly organized personality.

They have to get inside their characters in a psychological way as well.

“I think Ellie is sloppy,” says Honoria, a Clovis East High School student. “But she’s also smart. She’s witty. I think she uses humor as a coping mechanism because of her father’s death.”

Did they base any of their portrayals on their own mothers?

“I didn’t base it too much off my mom,” Aubrey says, “but she’s a fifth grade teacher, so when Katherine gets upset, or she’s very angry, I use that face she can make and that ‘teacher voice.’ “

Honoria’s mother works in human resources. “She’s very comforting and very nurturing,” she says of her mother. Those are qualities that don’t always apply to Katherine.

“I think that Katherine devalues Allie’s true struggles because she’s never experienced them.”

For Aubrey, it’s harder to play Katherine, and not just because of the difference in ages.

“I feel like you have to be way more conscious of your posture and body language, considering that she’s very precise. Also, Ellie is mad a lot. She’s very angry about her father dying and her mother getting married and just everything in her life. But Katherine kind of hides her sadness a lot more. It’s more of a challenge to play that, but I enjoy it a lot.”

Has the role made them think of cultural assumptions about how people of certain ages should look and behave?

For Honoria, it has. It’s made her think about all the responsibilities that Katherine has as an adult.

Related story: Excited about July’s big theater openings? I’m giving away tickets to all of them

“It teaches you about yourself, in a way,” she says. “We’re going to be Katherine one day. We’re going to grow up and deal with everything she does. Just looking at that, it makes you realize how life is.”

The show is an acting challenge, but it’s also a musical, which calls for vocal prowess. Honoria’s favorite song in the show is “Today and Every Day.”

“It’s so heartwarming and touching because they realize how much they love each other,” she says. “It’s so sweet, and it’s a lot of fun to sing.”

For Aubrey, her favorite song is “No More Fear.” She has a special personal connection.

“I was super touched by it when I heard it the first time,” she says. “In my life I’ve dealt with a lot of fear regarding being accepted. I had a lot of social anxiety when I was little. I couldn’t talk to people. If someone would say hi to me, I would scream and run away because I was really, really shy. Getting on stage was a huge thing for me when I was younger. It’s really fun to sing that song and put my own emotion to it.”

Finally, the toughest question of the interview:

I ask each of them: Before you auditioned, if you’d gotten to decide if the role was single-cast or double-cast, what would you have picked? In other words, it would be kind of an all-or-nothing situation: Instead of both girls being the star, just one would be.

(I know. It’s kind of a mean question.)

“It’s kind of fun to play all those different characters in one setting, but … I have really enjoyed playing Ellie,” Aubrey says diplomatically. “So I don’t know.”

Honoria thinks for a moment.

“I think I’d be lying if I say that I wouldn’t want to play Ellie all of the performances. But I also appreciate the experience I’ve gotten between having played four characters in one show. That’s a common practice on Broadway, called tracking, so it’s really good rehearsal for future opportunities.”

Aubrey adds that she’s encouraging people to come to any of the performances, regardless of who’s playing the lead.

“Because everyone’s awesome,” she says.

Show info

‘Freaky Friday,’ continues through July 21, Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Tickets are $14-$22 adults, $20 seniors, $10 children.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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