August 10, 2018 may forever be known as Freaky Friday as the Disney Channel debuts a new version of the iconic film based on the classic novel by Mary Rogers. Directed by Steve Carr, this Disney film stars stage veteran Heidi Blickenstaff and Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Dolphin Tale) as the bickering mother (Katherine) and daughter (Ellie) who both wish they could switch places with the other for a day. Unlike other film and television versions of the film, this reboot is a musical. Newcomer Dara Renee’ steals the show with her mean girl interpretation of the character of Savannah, Ellie’s classmate and nemesis.
Born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Dara Renee’ has talent and entertainment in her genes – her mother is an actress and her maternal grandmother was a member of the Baltimore-based group The Royalettes, a quartet of young women who delivered the soul stylings of the mid-1960s. The 17-year-old triple threat is giddy about her role as Savannah, bursting with excitement as we discuss her role in such an iconic franchise and on-the-ground training in a family of performers. “My family is so artsy. We’d be in the living room just singing, harmonizing,” says the breakout star. “Growing up with my entire family in Baltimore and my mother who is also an actress, I loved singing and acting and knew that I could do it.”
At age 2, Renee’ began her journey into entrertainment, appearing in commercials and print advertisements. Her mother then founded the non-profit “Encouraging Youth To Dream PERFORMING ARTS STUDIO” in Pikesville, Maryland where Renee’ trained and performed leading roles in stage productions, including “Annie,” “West Side Story,” “The Wiz” and “Grease.” The old soul who names Eartha Kitt as an influence and collects vintage 1970s clothing says the journey was, difficult but well worth it. “Perfoming was rough – it was tough and a constant hustle, but after a few years, things fell into place and success came upon me and I’m so happy,” says the giddy perfomer.
Renee’ eventually returned to Los Angeles to begin high school and pursue her acting career. When the opportunity to play Savannah came about, Renee’ wasn’t sure she would be chosen because she was a minor at the time and there was a lot of competition for the role.. “I knew I was talented but I didn’t know how those factors would play out so some insecurities crept in,” she offers,” but I got the role and was ecstatic! I learned to trust my talent and to never give up because dreams come true,” says Renee’ who plans to attend college at an HBCU in the near future.
Fans may be wondering how this version of the film will differ from the others. Renee’ is excited about this version of the film not only because of the songs written by Tony award-winners, impeccable comedic timing by Blickenstaff and Zuehlsdorff and a wonderful ensemble performance, but also because it is a film the entire family can enjoy together. “The songs will have you laughing and crying and everything in between. Even though you still have the vibe and storyline of the classic film, this version is quite unique,” she promises. Taking on a franchise that features legendary actresses like Jodie Foster, Barbara Harris, Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis had to be a bit unnerving for a teenager but Renee’ rose to the challenge. “Oh my gosh, I was so nervous at first because of the history of the franchise. Then I realized I deserve to be here. I’ve worked hard for many years and I was ready. I’m grateful to be here and counting my blessings.”
Freaky Friday debuts on the Disney Channel, tonight at 8 p.m. EST. Check local listings for channel information.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news blog The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.