Ten years after its debut, ‘MotherFreakingHood’ returns to Lawrence with new life
photo by: Contributed
Moms of all stripes can likely find plenty to relate to in “MotherFreakingHood,” a musical comedy showing soon in Lawrence for the first time since 2013.
Written by Julie Dunlap and Sara Stotts, both University of Kansas grads, “MotherFreakingHood” debuted at the Lawrence Arts Center a decade ago and is set to return to the stage at 940 New Hampshire St. Nov. 3 through Nov. 12. The show follows three moms who each find out they’re pregnant, meet at the gynecologist’s office and navigate together through 18 years of motherhood. More information about tickets and showtimes is available on the Lawrence Arts Center website.
In the time since its 2013 premiere, “MotherFreakingHood” has gone on to show in Kansas City, Chicago and even on a one-week off-Broadway run as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2017. And as it turns out, there have been quite a few parallels between the beats of the show and the trajectories of Stotts and Dunlap’s lives.
“We have actually lived the things that we were writing about before,” Dunlap told the Journal-World earlier this month. “I hadn’t actually taught anyone to drive. I have now taught five children to drive. I hadn’t actually graduated anyone from high school or moved anyone to college or out of the nest, and I’ve done that five times now. It was interesting to go back and look at this and go ‘Oh, wait a minute, I can relate a little deeper to what each of these moms is going through.'”
Dunlap and Stotts have seen their own real-life journeys of motherhood play out in the same way the characters in their show do. When they started writing, Dunlap’s oldest child of four at the time was 13 and Stotts’ youngest of two was just a year old, placing them each squarely in different phases of raising their families.
In much the same way that their own children have grown and changed, so has the show Dunlap and Stotts wrote together. A Journal-World review following the show’s debut in 2013 shows one example of just how much things have changed over time. That review noted there was “almost no cohesive plot to the show,” but rather a series of vignettes “designed to touch on things all mothers go through.”
But while that sentiment’s still there, the format has now shifted. Dunlap said a deeper storyline emerged somewhere along the way.
“What has happened in the last 10 years is we’ve found out that we set out to write a show about motherhood, and what we’ve found out is we wrote a show about friendship,” Dunlap said. “…Now, instead of having these songs that talk about motherhood and you see it happen in real time, you’re watching character development happen.”
You’re seeing, for example, first-time mom Rachel Nixon, played by Celia Thompson, maintain her spirit of individuality while also coming to understand who she is as a mom and how she has navigated the experience largely on her own. Angie Miller — the “type-A” mom, played by Leah Swank-Miller — is having her second child, and she comes to realize that it’s OK to not be perfect. And Marcia Burger, played by Margo Mikkelson, finds a new support system as an older mother who already had three teenagers and was planning for life as an empty-nester.
photo by: Jack Kapple Photography, courtesy of MFH Productions
But getting there meant making some changes, like cutting a cast member from the original Lawrence show — the sole male actor who played roles like the school principal, a birthing class instructor and even, believe it or not, a dancing Xanax pill. Dunlap said trimming the cast to include all women was ultimately a move that aligned with the show’s themes around female friendship.
Dunlap said other changes have included cutting some original songs, which were replaced with five to seven new ones that people in Lawrence will have never heard before unless they’ve traveled to see the show in other cities. That’s allowed for a “deeper delve” into its characters, Dunlap said, who have become more vivid and more multi-dimensional as a result.
“It’s exciting to think that we could start something and 10 years later it still has life — and it has new life, because it’s a newer show than it was 10 years ago,” Dunlap said.
Perhaps the best example of that new life is one new song and scene Dunlap described — a celebratory moment for Marcia Burger, who has at that point in the show been a stay-at-home mom for 34 years and finally gets to take a long-awaited beach trip. Dunlap said some songs have stayed pretty close to the same as they’ve always been, but this is one that she and Stotts couldn’t have written a decade ago.
Dunlap said the show’s obviously marketed at moms, but that doesn’t mean there’s not something here for everyone. She said it was important to her and Stotts that the “MotherFreakingHood” also honor the work and support dads provide.
Though Dunlap lives in Lawrence, she said the show’s return still feels like it’s a homecoming.
“It’s coming home,” Dunlap said. “It’s coming home with a better director. I directed the first one — this time, we have (Kansas City director) Heidi Van, she’s incredible. …We have another group of really funny, talented women, just like before. We have an incredible music director in Julie Danielson.”
photo by: File