Heidi Blickenstaff Braces Herself for 16 in Disney's Freaky Friday Musical

The Broadway veteran masters the nuances of teenage awkwardness after 20 years of playing 40.

Since the 1972 debut of Mary Rodgers' immortal children's novel, Disney has developed a new Freaky Friday for every subsequent generation — from the Jodie Foster-Barbara Harris film in 1976 to the Lindsay Lohan-Jamie Lee Curtis version in 2003 (with Gaby Hoffman and Shelley Long's inimitable 1995 made-for-TV remake sandwiched between).

Disney Theatrical Productions is finally adding its voice to this Freaky Friday legacy with a new Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey musical (directed by Christopher Ashley) premiering at Arlington, Virginia's Signature Theatre — and Heidi Blickenstaff leads the charge as half of the body-switching mother-daughter team. She technically plays Katherine, mother to 16-year-old Ellie (played by Emma Hunton), but [spoiler alert] spends the majority of the show as her teenage daughter — the reverse of the trend that has generally defined her career.

"When I was in my twenties, I was being cast as people in their forties. Now that I'm in my forties, things are finally starting to click," said Blickenstaff, who recently came off a Broadway run in the original cast of Something Rotten! (she is also one of the four who helped create the cult hit [title of show]). With Freaky Friday, it's back to the drawing board with another brand-new musical — but one that continues this trend in her evolving career and gives her renewed appreciation for the achy body she goes home with every night.

Heidi Blickenstaff stars as Katherine in the world-premiere musical Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre.
Heidi Blickenstaff in rehearsal as Katherine in the world-premiere musical Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre.
(© Christopher Mueller)

You're fresh off your experience developing Broadway's Something Rotten! from the ground up. Are you excited to be starting again with another new musical?
It is my very favorite thing. Even though I do have some dreamy dreams of someday playing Mrs. Lovett, what I love doing the most is making new musicals. It is certainly not for the faint of heart. You have to wear your superhero cape to work because what is asked of you as an actor is incredibly challenging. You have to implement new scenes and songs within hours sometimes. That certainly happened with Something Rotten! We had a critic in the house on a night when I had a completely new scene and song. Try doing that on Broadway in front of paying house. I sort of feel like if I can do that, I can do anything.

You starred in a regional production of Next to Normal in 2013. Did that solidify your love of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey musicals?
Doing that show and that role was very changing for me as an actress. I love Brian and Tom's stuff so much and felt such a deep connection to them. I've worked with them on workshops and other things in the city, but never to this extent, so when this opportunity came about to do Freaky Friday it was a no-brainer. They write such amazing things for women and for human beings in general. This particular score for Freaky Friday is so lush and so fun. It makes me cry and makes me jam out. Next to Normal rips your heart out in the greatest way and makes you think and feel — and this does that too but it's a very unique, fun, pop-rock score. As a singer, it is a total thrill to get to put my seatbelt on every night and take a crack at it.

What was your Freaky Friday knowledge base before joining the show?
I am embarrassed to say that it was a big fat zero. And now that I'm doing it, I'm purposefully staying away, because we're creating something new — the only thing that is the same is the mother-daughter switch. I hope what I'm doing is something that Mary Rodgers would be proud of.

And your character also depends on who you're playing against, because you have to be them for the majority of the show. How have you and your costar Emma Hunton worked together to find these characters?
Emma Hunton is a gem and I love her. We have become very fast friends. We do ask each other questions because I'm more of the expert on what it's like to be a forty-four-year-old mom — I'm a stepmother in real life — and Emma, though she's not sixteen, she's much closer to being a teenager than I am, so there is a lot of expertise swapping. More than three-quarters of the show I spend as a sixteen-year-old. It's very challenging but also so much fun, because I get to run around like a ding-dong for most of the show. I have two teenage stepsons, and they're so floppy and getting used to these alien bodies that are changing all the time. My forty-four-year-old body goes home aching every night from all of the physical awkwardness. God bless, I'm glad I'm not young anymore.

Blickenstaff, Emma Hunton, Alan H. Green, and Jake Heston Miller in rehearsal for Freaky Friday.
Blickenstaff, Emma Hunton, Alan H. Green, and Jake Heston Miller in rehearsal for Freaky Friday.
(© Christopher Mueller)

Have your stepsons also helped you channel your inner mom for this part?
Absolutely. Being a parent is such a gift, and I am so grateful for my stepsons — not only in the great research they're giving me — but just having a relationship with children as a parent is one of the great things you get to experience as a human being. We go through the young part of our life very focused on ourselves, and you don't really realize until you have children how beautiful it is to put yourself second on the list. It's opened up a piece of me as a human being that I have never felt before — making someone else and their needs more important than my own. And I imbue Katherine with that. You can't help it. Once you've been a parent, you're a parent.

Is there anyone you'd want a chance to switch places with for a day?
I think I would love to spend a day in my older stepson's shoes. He's sixteen, and I know that his life is very crazy. Teenage-hood sucks. You are trying to figure out who you're gonna be. At forty-four I'm achy but I know who I am. At sixteen, you think you know, but you also kind of know that you don't know and you're figuring it out by trial and error. I have such love for him, and I would love to put on his size thirteen shoes (good lord) and just see what a day is like for him because I think it's awesome and exciting and really hard.

Freaky Friday runs through November 20 at Signature Theatre.
(© Christopher Mueller)

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Freaky Friday

Closed: November 13, 2016