Bordentown Regional High School students Shannon Hansell (left) and Kayla Downing will star in the school’s production of “Freaky Friday,” set for Monday, April 23. BRHS is one of the first schools ever to present the show as part of a Disney theater pilot program.

The Bordentown Regional High School theater program has won a number of honors and accolades over the last several years. Since 2010, the school has been nominated for 43 Greater Philadelphia Cappie Awards and won 14 of them, including one for Outstanding Musical for the 2012 production of Legally Blonde. The school has also been honored with awards and nominations from the New Jersey State Thespian Festival and the New Jersey Theatre Night Awards.

This year, BRHS theater can add another honor to its list: being part of the Disney Theatrical Productions Pilot Program. As part of the program, a select group of schools throughout the country are chosen to mount of production of a new Disney musical before it is released to general licensing. Bordentown will present the brand-new musical version of Disney’s Freaky Friday on Saturday, April 28.

It started at the International Thespian Society Festival last June, said theater manager and ITS troupe director Stacie Morano. BRHS is home to ITS Troupe 6803, and each year, Morano and its members attend the annual festival in Nebraska. There, they attend workshops with professionals, see show performed by other troupes and interact with thespians from around the world.

“At the 2017 festival, I attended a workshop about the new musical Hunchback of Notre Dame, where representatives from Disney Theatricals and directors from three high school pilot productions discussed their experiences,” Morano said. “Listening to these directors and representatives speak, I knew this was an opportunity I wanted to offer to our Bordentown students. I spoke to a Disney Theatricals representative following the presentation, and many, many email exchanges later, we were informed that Bordentown had been selected to present a pilot production of the new Disney musical, Freaky Friday.”

Each pilot production, Morano said, is a test run of changes and decisions made based on the previous pilot production. Ultimately, it helps Disney finalize a script that all theaters can produce.

Preparing for Freaky Friday has given Morano and her students the opportunity to present—and learn—something totally new to an audience. It’s an experience that has become rare in the theater world.

“Usually when we choose a show to produce, there is a preconceived idea in the minds of our students and our audiences of what the show will look and sound like,” Morano said. “In this era of social media, it’s very difficult to avoid photos, music and videos of previous productions, and that means that many of them start to look and sound alike. Sometimes, it is difficult to get away from the idea that the Broadway/movie/professional production of a show is the ‘right way’ to do it.”

The music is what drew Morano to the show, though she also added that the script is “hilarious.” She said the show is packed with catchy, upbeat songs, as well as heartfelt moments, and she felt confident her students could tell the story the right way.

“It’s great to do a show set in present day with a story that high school students and their parents can relate to,” she said. “Who hasn’t felt at one time or another that their child (or parent) doesn’t understand them?”

Doing a pilot production, Morano said, means having to be flexible, but it’s worth all the extra work. Music director Simon Daum has been a huge help, and Bordentown students Sarah Reichard (choreographer), Lauren Redwood (lighting designer), Kyle Meier (sound designer) and Kaitlyn McDonald (stage manager) also volunteered their efforts.

Everyone, not just the actors, benefits from doing a new production, Morano said. The production team is able to find interesting ways to tell the story through dance, lights and sound without having a prior production to use as a reference point. Morano called it a “fascinating challenge.”

“The beauty of theatre is that each production of a show allows it to be interpreted in a new way and seen through a fresh perspective,” Morano said. “Doing a brand new show is like working with a clean canvas. We have a script and music, and what Bordentown Theatre chooses to do with it is up to us. It is an opportunity for creativity that not many high school students get, and we can’t wait to tell the story of Freaky Friday to our audiences.

* * *

When an overworked mother and her teenage daughter magically swap bodies, they have just one day to put things right again before mom’s big wedding. Freaky Friday, a new musical based on the novel by Mary Rodgers and the Disney films, is a contemporary update on an American classic in which a mother and daughter really see what it is to be a family and experience each other’s lives first-hand, if only for a day.

Freaky Friday will be performed on Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Bordentown Performing Arts Center. The show is family-friendly. Tickets are $5 each and will be available at the door, as well as at brhsnj.booktix.com.

Featured in the cast are BRHS students Jack Ashfield, Lucas Bergen, Evan Braasch, Lydia Braasch, Ave’ Corbitt, Kayla Downing, Abigail Rose Gunther, Shannon Hansell, Abigayle Harnum, Isabella Mayo, Courtney Quinn, Lauren Redwood, Annissa Richard, Gabrielle Takacs, Hannah Vliet and Alison Wall, as well as University Heights Elementary School third grader Roman Engel as Fletcher.

The Bordentown Performing Arts Center is attached to Bordentown Regional High School, and is located at 318 Ward Ave. For information on the performing arts at Bordentown Regional High School, visit bordentown.k12.nj.us, email bordentowntheatre@yahoo.com or call (609) 496-1452.