Erin Thompson made her Circa ‘21 debut when she was 11.
It was 1992 and the Davenport native played one of Miss Hannigan’s orphan girls in “Annie.”
Thompson had big dreams. From the time she could walk, her parents say she memorized commercials and parts of movies to later act them out. She watched “The Sound of Music” repeatedly and made up dances for her neighborhood friends. She wrote book reports about wanting to move to New York City and perform.
“Like a lot of kids who fall in love with musical theater, I had Broadway aspirations,” she said.
Returning to Circa ‘21 Dinner Playhouse wasn’t necessarily part of the dream.
But Thompson, who hasn’t lived here since she moved away for college, is back to make another kind of debut at the Rock Island theater.
Thompson is the director — her first time with that title — and choreographer behind Circa ‘21’s run of “Freaky Friday,” which opens this week.
She has been in town working and spending time with her parents and other relatives for a month, her longest stretch of time in the Quad-Cities in nearly two decades.
“It feels like coming home,” she said. “I’m able to spend time with family and I’m doing a show about family.”
Thompson left the Quad-Cities to attend the Boston Conservatory, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in musical theater. She then spent six years performing and taking on choreography gigs in Chicago. She moved to New York City, where she is based now, in 2011 to further pursue her theater career.
“I just loved every part of theater, so I did whatever I could,” she said. “Looking at it now, directing and choreographing, for me, was inevitable. It seems to come naturally to me because I grew up dancing.”
"Freaky Friday" is new to Circa ‘21, which is one of the first regional theaters to get the rights to it. The story about an overworked mother and her teenage daughter magically swapping bodies was originated in the 1972 book by Mary Rodgers and was later adapted into two Disney movies — the 1976 version starred Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris and the 2003 movie starred Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis.
The musical version was first produced in 2016. It’s set in present day Chicago and is overall a “cool and contemporary” take on the classic tale with original music, Thompson said.
“The Quad-Cities is very lucky to get this,” Thompson said. “I imagine you’re going to see this show all over the country in the future.”
Circa ‘21 producer Denny Hitchcock said he aims to offer a mixture of new and established musicals each season. For example, this season has included “Elf: the Musical” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” plus the upcoming production of “Mama Mia,” which Hitchcock said he has been trying to get for several years.
“It’s important to keep things fresh for the audience,” he said. “That way, they can see what’s been on Broadway or other big stages.”
On the note of keeping things fresh, if you go to a “Freaky Friday” performance, running through March 24, you’ll be greeted by a “Selfie stand” where you can take photos with a show-themed backdrop and props.
For Thompson, there’s a reason “Freaky Friday” continues to live on. Disney Channel recently announced plans to produce a movie version later this year.
“It’s a story with timeless themes of this parent/child relationship,” she said. “It’s always a good thing to imagine what life might be like through someone else’s life. It ends up being the perfect mix of humor and heart.”