The story “Freaky Friday,” originally a 1972 book, has staying power, to the degree that a musical stage adaption will be performed at the Missoula Community Theatre this fall.

“For every decade since the '70s, there’s been a version of it,” said Joe Martinez, director of MCT's production. “What’s interesting about it, is it’s the same premise every time — that mother and daughter trade places for a day and see what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes.”

But in his research watching every previous iteration (including a couple of TV movies from 1995 and 2018), Martinez noticed small shifts in theme from era to era.

In the 1976 original starring Jodie Foster, the focus was on the characters maintaining a perfect family unit. In the '90s, it became a story about divorce. By the famous 2003 version starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, the focus shifted to a second marriage.

The newest version — premiered in 2016 as a stage production and made into the 2018 TV movie by Disney — also deals with a second marriage, but with undercurrents of loss, grief, social media, bullying and other modern concerns.

“It’s still done in a fun, family-friendly way,” Martinez said. “But it’s a little darker than what people think 'Freaky Friday' is, because it’s set in the modern day.”

MCT's production, which premieres Oct. 24 and runs until Nov. 3, stars Caydance Wilson as the daughter, Ellie, and Darci Monsos as her mother Katherine.

The play presents a unique challenge for actors, who — once the fantastical body-switch takes place — must essentially switch roles.

That led Martinez and his production team to look for a pair of actors who had similar physicality and speech patterns. After casting, they encouraged Wilson and Monsos to try to copy each other’s movements. The two characters inhabit each other’s bodies for the majority of the show, after all.

“They both are really involved in creating these characters,” Martinez said. The realism is helped by Wilson's and Monsos’ earnestness.

“It’s coming from a real place, it’s not coming from, ‘I have to create a character,’” he explained. “They’re both real people playing real people.”

The body-switch is a challenge in other ways, Martinez said. Ellie is the narrator of the story, but is only in her own body for the first few minutes of the show, leaving little time to connect to the audience.

And, Martinez admitted, “it’s also confusing,” leading to moments in rehearsal where he had to ask: “Which character is speaking right now, the mother or the daughter?”

The music, written in the 2010s, is fairly modern, Martinez said, though still with some musical theater stylings. He and his choreographer worked to modernize it further by incorporating some hip-hop dance moves into the show.

Martinez thought the show’s updated take on a mother-daughter relationship, along with an honest look at high school life (MCT has rated the show PG-13) featuring a cast largely comprising teenagers, made the show ideal for a large audience.

“Just to be able to have a group of high school kids play high school kids is fun and challenging,” Martinez said. “It’s a good show and it has a good message.”

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.