Wichita is an important testing ground for Disney.
The theatrical powerhouse formed a relationship with Music Theatre Wichita in 2004, and since then Wichita has been among few theaters nationwide to get early cracks at new Disney productions.
That relationship will be showcased again, as Music Theatre Wichita will mount a production of Disney's all-new “Freaky Friday” musical.
The musical – the songs for which were written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning team behind “Next to Normal” – is having a bit of a moment right now.
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Shortly after “Freaky Friday” wraps production in Wichita, a made-for-TV adaptation of the musical will premiere on the Disney Channel on Aug. 10. After that, the musical will be made widely available to theaters across the country.
But before that, Wichita will play an important part in the musical’s development, regardless of whether it makes it to Broadway.
“It is fun to feel like a theater in the middle of the country can be part of the great body of work that goes into the canon of music theater,” said Wayne Bryan, producing artistic director for Music Theatre Wichita.
The musical is based off the 1972 book by Mary Rodgers and the subsequent Disney films.
In it, a mother and her teenage daughter magically switch bodies with each other and, in the process, grow to respect and understand each other.
The musical adaptation was written by Bridget Carpenter, who has produced successful TV shows including “Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood,” and the Hulu series “11.22.63.” It premiered in 2016.
In Wichita, MTW longtimer Kim Huber – who played Belle in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway – will play the mother, Katherine.
Her daughter, Ellie, is played by Chelsey Lynn Alfredo.
The two say it’s been a challenge to play these roles that are so opposite their actual life experience.
“We’re watching each other, trying to figure out the other’s mannerisms,” Huber said.
The show will be the first time MTW has experimented with “electronic backdrops,” said scenic designer J Branson.
An LED wall behind the scenery will change throughout the show to display different backdrops and animations, he said.
“This is everything I could do that wouldn’t look like a regular musical,” he said. “From the beginning, it was something that would not look like music theater if we could avoid it. Projections, modern lines in the set – everything I usually do I didn’t.”
At one point during the show, company members will be dancing in the audience, said choreographer Brian J. Marcum – who last year choreographed “Newsies” for MTW.
“For me it feels like somewhat of a dance concert,” he said. “With the open space and LED wall, that leaves a lot of space available. … When you have a big cast like this, you have to use them.”
Disney had been tweaking the musical up until earlier this summer, and Bryan said it’s “definitely a work in constant progress.”
It's not scheduled to go to Broadway anytime soon, "although they did not plan to take 'Newsies' (to Broadway), and it just took off," Bryan said.
“It’s fun for our audiences to see things that are not ‘Guys and Dolls,' shows they may have seen before, if they’re willing to go with us and try something they’re unsure of,” he said.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, July 11-12; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, July 13-14; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, July 14-15; and 7 p.m. Sunday, July 15
Where: Concert Hall, Century II, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $34-$69 for evening performances, $32-$66 for matinees, from the Century II box office, by phone at 316-265-3107 or online at www.mtwichita.org. Student-rush tickets available for half-price on a first-come first-serve basis at the box office two hours prior to every showtime.
More information: Show is rated PG. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Children must be at least 5 years old to attend an MTW production.