One ‘Freaky Friday’

One ‘Freaky Friday’

Pilot Arts picks a musical perfect for families


In 1972, when Mary Rodgers published “Freaky Friday” — her hilarious young adult novel about what happens when a mom and her teenage daughter switch bodies overnight — she couldn’t know that her book would become such a sensation that it would inspire three movie adaptations and a 2016 stage musical developed by Disney Theatrical Productions.

“Even though it has magical elements to it, it’s still so relatable,” says Pilot Arts founder and artistic director, Missy Gipson, of the lasting appeal of Rodgers’ story. The fledgling theater company, now in its second year, is taking on the challenge of mounting the large-cast musical, and Gipson could not be more excited about it. “It’s about trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, trying to understand each other. It’s not always the easiest thing in the world.”

Gipson says choosing the relatively unknown musical is a bit of a risk for Pilot Arts. The show never made it to Broadway, though Disney did produce a movie version that shares many of the same songs as the stage play. But Gipson says she was attracted to the choice because of its strong musical score.

“It’s so well-written, so diverse,” she says with enthusiasm. “You have a doo-wop song, a blues song, rock songs, ballads — it runs the gamut. The people who wrote this wrote [the Tony Award-winning musical] ‘Next to Normal’ and some other great musicals, so the songwriting in it is amazing. It’s catchy and fun and goes along with the flavor of the show.

“Even though it does go into some heavier material, I would still definitely consider it comedic and light-hearted. It ends in a way that makes you leave the theater happy.”

That makes it perfect, says Gipson, for families to see together. But Gipson doesn’t just want kids and young adults in the audience; she wants them on stage, as well.

“Honestly, I try to pick shows that have some kind of younger element to them,” she says. “I love seeing kids and adults working together. It elevates the process, and they learn from each other. We have a lot of local students from at least four different high schools working on this, and it’s really neat to see them meet each other. You know, when you’re in high school, you have your pocket of kids that you hang out with, so it’s fun to get these kids together. It’s also fun to see these kids who have only ever worked in high school get in a show with adults and see how they work. Every one of these kids has risen to the occasion, and it’s neat to see them move through that process. They get braver and more confident as we go on.”

That inclusivity is intentional. “This is theater for everyone,” states Pilot Arts’ website. Gipson started the theater in 2017 as a means of providing more performance opportunities for all, and she did it in an unlikely place: Pilot Arts calls the Arkansas Air and Military Museum its home. The originality of the space and the hard work that goes into turning it into a theater is a point of pride for Gipson.

“We take these large-scale musicals and put them in a found space, which is an incredible feat,” she says. “We bring the truss work, the staging, the chairs, the lighting, sound — the whole nine yards — and we do it in four days. It’s really neat to give that site-specific experience to people locally. It’s a unique theater experience in Northwest Arkansas.”

Last year, audiences exceeded Gipson’s expectations — more than 2,500 theatergoers experienced a Pilot Arts show — and Gipson says that, at each audition, new faces continue to show up.

“We’ve really lucked out with having repeat performers, but, with every show, we’ve added on new people,” she says.

That is, after all, the goal.

“We want to continue to grow and offer more and more performance opportunities to people in this community,” says Gipson.



‘Freaky Friday: The Musical’

WHEN — 7 p.m. March 27-30; 2 p.m. March 30-31

WHERE — Arkansas Air and Military Museum, 4290 S. School Ave., Fayetteville

COST — $12-$30

INFO — 879-1034



Hear More!

Listen to an interview with Missy Gipson on the NWA Democrat-Gazette’s YouTube channel.

Categories: Theater