An occasional roundup of family-friendly theater around Washington. (Shows are appropriate for age 4 and older unless noted.)
A mother and daughter switch personalities in a new musical, while sisters cling to each other through heartbreak and happiness in a Jane Austen adaptation — this pair of “grown-up” shows could also be a treat for many kids.
At the center of Freaky Friday, a world premiere musical at Signature Theatre, are two singer-actresses just getting to know each other: Heidi Blickenstaff, who plays the mom, Katherine, and Emma Hunton, who plays the daughter, Ellie. Both actresses are self-described “belters” who say their voices meld so well that they sometimes sound like one.
Created by the “Next to Normal” and “If/Then” team of composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey, with a script by Bridget Carpenter, the musical is based on the 1972 book by Mary Rodgers, the 1976 movie with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris, the 1995 television movie with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann, and the 2003 movie with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis — whew! But it changes a lot of details, including character names and occupations.
“We have the luxury of being able to sort of create these characters from scratch,” Blickenstaff said after a recent rehearsal. “And it’s fun to just sort of be completely 100 percent inventing every day.”
In this version, Katherine is a recently widowed caterer who is about to remarry, not giving her teenage daughter much time to adjust. So when Ellie has to give up a big scavenger hunt to attend her mom’s rehearsal dinner, she’s totally bummed.
“Ellie’s not really great with interacting outside of her two friends . . . she’s kind of a loner and a little bit more awkward than the average teenager,” Hunton said. “It’s so important for her to be seen as normal by the rest of her class, to participate in this scavenger hunt, that when her mom just says no, it’s kind of like, ‘Ugh, there goes any chance I have of fitting in.’ ”
Thus the magical personality “swap,” which Blickenstaff describes as “this amazing idea that Mary Rodgers had to live a day in each other’s shoes, and then they both develop compassion and empathy for the other’s life.”
Before meeting on the first day of rehearsals, Blickenstaff and Hunton had Googled and YouTubed each other, so they had a sense of whom they would be harmonizing with. Both have Broadway and regional credits, and each has experience working with Yorkey and Kitt — Blickenstaff as the troubled mother in a regional production of “Next to Normal,” Hunton as the daughter in that show’s national tour. Now, they say, they’ve found magic together.
“I don’t even know if I want to say this out loud to you,” Blickenstaff said, glancing at Hunton, “but it’s only happened a handful of times in my career, when I’ve sung with people that I’m particularly synergistic with. Our voices sound like one. And there are moments in this where our voices sound like one voice and it’s sort of like . . .” She gasps.
Even though Blickenstaff plays the mom and Hunton the daughter, for most of the show, their characters’ personalities are switched. Blickenstaff, with lifelong perfect posture, must remember to slouch like a teenager, and Hunton to stand up straight. Director Christopher Ashley (who just staged “Come From Away” at Ford’s Theatre) keeps reminding them, Blickenstaff said, to “spend a minute in each other’s skin” during breaks.
Both Blickenstaff and Hunton said that they’re having a blast but that the show, despite its lighthearted tone, is every bit as difficult as the psychologically complex “Next to Normal,” if not more so.
“It’s not just this frothy little musical, like ‘Oh, that’ll be fun to do a little Disney musical,’ ” Blickenstaff said. “It’s a huge acting challenge.”
“Freaky Friday.” Through Nov. 20 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington.
703-820-9771. sigtheatre.org. $40-$108. Recommended for age 8 and older.
Sense & Sensibility at Folger
Maggie McDowell and Erin Weaver play sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, respectively, in Folger Theatre’s playful and fast-moving adaptation-on-wheels of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility , in which actors open the show dancing to rock music, then segue seamlessly into a gavotte. Elinor, the eldest, has a sweet but restrained personality, while the 17-ish Marianne wears her emotions on her puffy sleeve, ignoring the rules of English society circa 1811. Yet the sisters comfort each other when their hearts are broken, and celebrate when each, at long last, finds love.
McDowell and Weaver had never met before rehearsals, but both say they’ve been simpatico from the start. “This is sort of one of my first big shows, and I was like, ‘What if the woman who plays my sister is intimidating or doesn’t like me or thinks I’m bad or whatever?’ “McDowell said. “I just feel so lucky that she could not be more lovely.”
Elinor and Marianne anchor each other — “We are really the only thing we have in this story, in this world,” McDowell said, referring to the fact that the sisters lose their father quite suddenly and find themselves, their mother (Lisa Birnbaum) and much younger sibling, Margaret (Nicole Kang), nearly destitute and at the mercy of nasty relatives. Even worse, they fall in love with men who, for different reasons, can’t commit. Marianne grieves loudly while Elinor suffers in silence.
“There’s a lot of great moments where they’re butting heads, and then something happens and they immediately come together and they’re there for each other,” Weaver said. “In real life, we’re kind of both a mix [of Elinor’s and Marianne’s personalities]. But even in real life, we sort of have those undertones. She’s very sort of calm and together, and I’m a little bit more manic.” Just like the sisters they play.
“Sense & Sensibility.” Through Nov. 6 at Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. 202-544-7077.
folger.edu/theatre. $30-$75. Recommended for age 10 and older.
A gifted British teen named Christopher sets out to learn who killed a neighbor’s dog, an act that has been blamed on him, in the Tony Award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Although he’s painfully sensitive to bright lights and loud noises, Christopher must venture out into London. Wednesday through Oct. 23 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center. org. Recommended for age 10 and older. $39-$149.
Adventure Theatre MTC is reprising Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical, which debuted at the Kennedy Center in 2010. It’s based on the picture book by Mo Willems about a little girl named Trixie who goes to the laundromat with her dad and loses her beloved plush bunny rabbit. With music by Michael Silversher, script and lyrics by Willems, choreography by Michael J. Bobbitt and direction by Nick Olcott. Through Oct. 23 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. 301-634-2270. adventuretheatre-mtc.org. $19.50.
Imagination Stage will present The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, based on Kate DiCamillo’s 2006 book about a vain, unfeeling toy rabbit made of china who falls overboard during a transatlantic voyage, leaving his little owner bereft. He is found, lost and found again by others as he learns how to love. Adapted by Dwayne Hartford and directed by Janet Stanford. Oct. 8-30 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. 301-280-1660.
imaginationstage.org. $10-$30. Recommended for age 6 and older.
A bilingual folk tale, Volcanoes — Tales of El Salvador, by Cornelia Cody, will make its world premiere at GALA Theatre, which commissioned it for the kid-friendly GALita wing. Directed by Gustavo Ott and based on folk tales about the cadejos, or magic dogs of the volcanoes, the tale is interwoven with a story about siblings going through trying times. Oct. 8-22 at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. 202-234-7174. galatheatre. org. $10 children, $12 adults.
Hip-hop performers Paige Hernandez and Baye Harrell will apply their talents to folk tales, history, art, language, sounds and numbers in All the Way Live!, an interactive remix for kids 5 and older, set to the beats of Nick “Nick the 1da” Hernandez and a magical boombox. Oct. 15-16 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” was created by composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey. “Dear Evan Hansen” was created by composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and book writer Steven Levenson.