Not every book or movie can be successfully transformed into a play or musical. Broadway actress Heidi Blickenstaff says it works for Freaky Friday "because there is magic involved, it is inherently theatrical. Because there is a fantastical element to the story — this wildly unusual body swap — it lends itself to being theatrical."
Alley Theatre plays host in a three-theater co-production with the Cleveland Play House, La Jolla Playhouse and the Alley Theatre with the story of a mother and daughter who swap bodies for 24 hours. The Disney musical was preceded by two popular movies (1976 and 2003), whose story and inspiration came from a widely read 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers.
Blickenstaff (Broadway: Something Rotten!, The Addams Family, Disney’s The Little Mermaid and The Full Monty) stars as the mom and says going back and forth between the characters is a joy for an actor.
“For me playing Katherine is a breeze but Ellie is nothing like me. To be able to play a crazy 16-year-old who doesn’t think of consequences and is pretty selfish and only wants to do what she wants is really fun because I was never that way. It’s really liberating.”
The musical, she says, dives deeply into the relationship of the mother and daughter, both grieving in their own way about the husband/father who died. Katherine is on the verge of remarrying and Ellie has a lot of issues of her own. "The two women have lost each other. In the course of this story they fall back in love with each other.
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"We often say in musical theater you have to push a character to the edge to give them a reason to sing," Blickenstaff says. "Nobody really wants to hear something not inherently dramatic sung. You have to have a really great reason to burst into song."
Her favorite song in the show is when she sings "After All of This and Everything." "It''s kind of a rebellious lullaby that I sing as the teenager to my younger brother, but he thinks I'm his mother . And he falls asleep in my lap. It is such a gorgeous song in and of itself but the fact that it has sort of got this double meaning because it's this 16 year old coming to terms with appreciating her mother and kind of cracking open for the first time and realizing that she has been deeply saddened by the loss of her father and she shares this with her brother whom she up until that moment has been cruel to all day long.
"People go into Freaky Friday having some kind of previously existing relationship with either the book or the movie. And so they know that there's going to be a mother-daughter swap and they know that there's going to be comedy. They know that there's going to be zany, family fun. But I think that what people actually leave with is a surprising sense of compassion and empathy."
Performances are scheduled for June 7 through July 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26-$103.