In theater, it’s good to take risks.
Sometimes the risk pays off and sometimes it doesn’t, but you never know until you try.
It’s incumbent upon theaters like Music Theatre Wichita to keep seasons exciting with new shows and other contemporary material — though some of the more curmudgeonly sort would perhaps prefer all “Oklahoma!” all the time.
Hence we arrive at “Freaky Friday,” the new Disney musical that was the greatest unknown of MTW’s 2018 season.
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The show, which has hopped around regional theaters for the past two years, opened Wednesday night in Wichita. An adapted version is set to premiere as a Disney Channel Original Movie next month.
It’s a brand-new show that’s very much in the contemporary Broadway style — MTW’s producing artistic director joked earlier this season that “the ink’s not even dry” on the script.
There’s minimal scenery to bog down the show, which is presented entirely in front of a stage-sized LED screen — or “electronic backdrop,” as scenic designer J Branson referred to it.
The orchestra is pared down to 10 players, simply because that’s all most contemporary shows call for.
It’s not typical for Music Theatre Wichita, which is known for its grandiose sets and large orchestras.
Still, for most of Wednesday night, the experience was a delight.
The weight of the show is largely foisted upon its two leads, Kim Huber and Chelsey Lynn Alfredo — who play the mother and daughter in “Freaky Friday.” Due to the strange influence of a magic hourglass, Huber and Alfredo trade places with each other and see what it’s like to live in the other’s shoes.
The show takes significant liberties from the 2003 film that many are familiar with — though that movie also took significant liberties from the original 1972 book by Mary Rodgers. The general concept is still the same.
Huber and Alfredo have great on-stage chemistry, and provide a great many laughs during this show, which in general is a pretty funny affair.
Without scenery taking up stage space, this large cast is given a chance to shine — thanks to some dynamic choreography by Brian J. Marcum.
Technically, there’s a lot going on here.
One of the coolest recurring moments throughout the show came during Act 2’s scavenger hunt scene. The “clue master” Adam, played here by University of Oklahoma student Keith Gruber, gives a series of scavenger hunt clues through a Snapchat-like app.
When Gruber holds his phone up to his face and sings, the camera image is displayed up on the huge LED screen, an impressive technical feat.
In general, the show is great fun.
It’s a lean show, a lighthearted piece of musical theater that will brighten your evening. It’s the kind of thing that would fit in perfectly on the Disney Channel.
Some around me were decidedly less enthused, griping loudly at intermission about how displeased they were with the show.
That’s the thing with doing new shows — you can’t please everybody.
That’s why it’s a risk.
But for MTW, it was a risk well worth taking.
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.