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‘Freaky Friday’ Team Takes Their 2016 Musical to the Small Screen

Disney knows a good thing when it sees it. The studio has adapted Mary Rodgers’ 1972 children’s novel “Freaky Friday” into a feature film three times, a stage musical once and now a TV movie for Disney Channel, premiering Aug. 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

And the company can identify a good team too. When Disney Theatrical Prods. developed the stage version in 2016, producers turned to the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning composing team of Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (lyrics). The book was written by Bridget Carpenter. Disney decided to keep the collaborators together for the TV adaptation.

“Tom and Brian are the perfect team for ‘Freaky Friday,’” says Thomas Schumacher, president and producer of Disney Theatrical. “Their connection to the Mary Rodgers novel was deep, and they’ve provided the show with a score that’s funny, moving and wise.”

Indeed, Kitt and Yorkey had been longtime fans of the material. So when Disney asked them to get involved with the TV version, they leaped at the chance to get back into the project. “We knew we were going to have a lot of fun and make something special,” Yorkey says.

“When you’re working with something that’s iconic and beloved, you feel a pressure to justify the adaptation and bring your own voice to it.”
Tom Kitt

Eight songs from the original stage production will be featured in the TV adaptation, geared toward children ages 6 to 14. Two additional songs include one co-written by Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who portrays Ellie, the rebellious daughter who swaps bodies with prim mom Katherine, played by Heidi Blickenstaff.

Yorkey and Kitt have worked together on a number of projects, including the 2008 Broadway musical “Next to Normal,” which won Tonys for score, orchestration and actress in a musical as well as taking the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

The pair met while in college at Columbia University. “I was working on a show called ‘The Varsity Show,’ which has sort of a long and storied history of musical theater writers,” Yorkey says. “Rodgers and Hammerstein met on ‘The Varsity Show.’ We needed a composer, and a close friend said she knew one. It turned out to be Tom.” Kitt wound up marrying Yorkey’s friend, Rita Pietropinto.

The longtime writing partners are no strangers to adaptations. Kitt, for instance, has written music for stage adaptations of “High Fidelity” and “Bring It On.”

Disney Channel returned to Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning composing team Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (lyrics) for its TV reboot of film and stage adaptation “Freaky Friday,” premiering on Friday, Aug. 10.
Getty Images Courtesy of Disney

“When you’re working with something that’s iconic and beloved, you feel a pressure to justify the adaptation and bring your own voice to it,” he says. “What I look for is something that I feel really passionate about, something that has not only created a spark of inspiration and moved me in such a way that I want to adapt it, but also that I feel like I can add something new and vital to the source material.”

That was the case with “Freaky Friday.” “Even before Brian and I sat down with Disney, it was something I wanted to adapt as a musical because I felt that everybody can relate to the story,” Kitt explains. “You can get even deeper into the characters and the complexities and the emotions of the piece with original songs.”

Kitt and Yorkey hope their association with Disney will continue for a long time as well. “The tradition of Disney music, of Disney songs is for me why I wanted to write musicals,” Yorkey explains. “Growing up with all the great Disney films and all the songs that went with them, all the way back to ‘When You Wish Upon a Star,’ the tradition of Disney music is a rich one. Just the chance to be a tiny part of that is a real dream come true.”

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