Friends! The Musical Parody by writers Bob and Tobly McSmith, those specialists in stage satires of television and film comedies such as The Office, Bayside, Saved by the Bell, Showgirls, Full House, Love Actually, and Parks and Recreation, is witty and clever, reducing the popular series’ ten seasons and 235 episodes to a swift one hour and 45 minutes including intermission. Their lyrics are deft and pungent. The target audience is probably the myriad fans of the long running series as there are many unexplained references to famous moments in the series (Ross’ “Moist Maker” sandwich, Phoebe’s “Dead Mommy” song as “Smelly Cat” is still under copyright, “the routine,” etc.)
The problem with the show now at The Jerry Orbach Theater is director Tim Drucker’s frenetic, over-the-top staging and the artificially broad presentational style of the acting, similar to – but beyond – what he did in his 2019 production of Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody at the same theater. It is as though he does not trust the material. Matthew Fischer’s sound design for the taped score by composer Assaf Gleizner (to Gleizner’s orchestrations) is overly loud and fast, overpowering the clever lyrics which are well worth hearing for their stinging barbs at the television series. It also makes all of the songs sound the same, except for some short, slower folk ballads set to guitar accompaniment which are mostly oddball numbers for Phoebe to play in her gig as a folksinger.
The plot which hardly needs to be described covers the lives of six quirky friends and roommates and their on-again, off-again love relationships in Greenwich Village of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Using seven actors to play ten roles, the show begins with the opening episode in which Rachel having walked out on her marriage to boring dentist Barry arrives at the friends’ usual hangout of the Village coffee shop, Central Perk, to find her high school BFF Monica and ends up her roommate and a waitress at the restaurant. Her troubled relationship with Monica’s brother Ross, a moody paleontologist, is described in the song “Will They or Won’t They?” which is sung in three different versions in the course of the show.
Along the way we see the dating problems of actor Joey and data statistician Chandler who live across the hall from the women, as well as Phoebe, the folk-singing eccentric who used to room with Monica and has a mother-complex having lost her own to suicide when she was young. AC Rutherford as Chandler also puts in appearances as Janice (Chandler’s irritating girlfriend “who shows up once a season”), Ursula (Phoebe’s twin sister with whom she is on the outs), Marcel (Ross’s horny pet monkey) and Tom Selleck (the actor who played Monica’s boyfriend Dr. Richard Burke in ten episodes starting in Season Two.) Among the many names dropped are Hank Azaria, Bruce Willis and Paul Rudd who made guest appearances on the series, and real life spouses to the original TV actresses Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox (Brad Pitt and David Arquette.)
The show ends with five of the characters finding their true loves as they did in the television series, and a reminder that that the original TV stars eventually made a million dollars an episode. The final song is a tribute to the TV sitcom’s theme song reminding us that they “will always be there for you.” Among the 20 musical numbers and two reprises are entertaining and surprising parodies of songs from Fiddler on the Roof and Rent. The opening song “Friends like Us” is actually the original name of the series before the title was shortened. Joshua Warner’s suitable setting overlaps Central Perk and Monica’s apartment in the same space, with different doors for each on opposite sides of the stage.
As in the television series, each actor is defined by one trait, here played rather one-dimensionally: Maggie McMeans as the uptight chef Monica, Nick Anastasia’s depressed Ross whose first wife has left him for another woman, Domenic Servidio’s dim-witted and ever on-the-make Joey, Sami Griffith as spoiled rich girl Rachel, Jenna Cormey’s kooky Phoebe with her comparisons which always have to be explained, and Rutherford’s Chandler with his bad jokes and his sexual insecurity. Rutherford’s other roles (Ursula, Janice, Marcel and played as a doddering Tom Selleck who was 21 years older than Monica who he was dating on the show) owe great deal to costume designer David Rigler and wig designer Conor Donnelly. Coldin Grundmeyer makes a few appearances as Gunther, the blond, Germanic manager of Central Perk who develops an unrequited crush on Rachel. While some of the actors look and capture their TV counterparts to a T, others are rather offbeat casting and do not suggest them without suspension of disbelief.
Friends! The Musical Parody is a light-hearted and fast-paced entertainment satirizing the famed television sit-com. It also gets in a few jabs at social mores of network TV such as the fact there were no Black characters. The many references to specific episodes in the series’ ten years may put some theatergoers at a disadvantage but devotees of the decade’s long run will most likely have a grand time.
Friends! The Musical Parody (July 19 – September 19, 2021 prior to yearlong North American tour)
Right Angle Entertainment
The Jerry Orbach Theater at The Theater Center, 1627 Broadway at 50th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.Ticketmaster.com
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission