Friends!: The Musical Parody
At the Broadway Playhouse
by Dan Zeff
Chicago –The “Friends” television series ran from 1994 to 2004, building a huge fan base of worshipers, myself included. The comic adventures of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey carved a permanent niche in the history of classic television sitcoms and the show’s final episode set a record for most watched program in TV history.
A live musical adaptation titled “Friends! The Musical Parody” is now on a national tour, stopping at the Broadway Playhouse for a three week run. The show surveys the characters and major plot points of the series as it moved through its 236 episodes, augmented by a group of original songs, many of them influenced by numbers from such Broadway hits as “Chicago,” “Sweet Charity,” “Company,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Les Miserables.”
Six actors play the Friends characters, occasionally changing costume to impersonate auxiliary characters that came and went in the series. The production strings together bits and pieces from various episodes along with self-referential inserts easily recognized by an informed audience. The show runs about 1 hour and 50 minutes including one intermission.
Those are some of the basic facts. So, is “Friends!” worthy of the original? A lot of audience members, mostly youngish, on opening night seemed to think it is just fine. I consider it an almost complete misfire. I arrived at the theater primed for a reincarnation of the glories of the TV series and departed irritated and depressed. For me, this “Friends” was noisy, labored unsuccessfully to be funny, and most damning, it was vulgar.
Case in point. The character of Ross Geller, as originally played by Chicago actor David Schwimmer, was the drollest and most low keyed character in the ensemble. The live Ross is an overwrought ninny, dithering and kvetching until I was looking away from him out of embarrassment. It was like the creators of the show had some kind of vendetta to humiliate Ross into a neurotic loony tune. The same injury has been done to Tom Selleck who had some cameos in the TV series as Monica’s suave and sexy lover. The live version converts Selleck into a gross and cruel caricature of a bumbling and horny old man, just to get a cheap laugh.
Sex was a frequent theme in the TV series. All six friends were in their mid 20’s (continuing into their early 30’s) and erotic liaisons were inevitable as their hormones pumped. But the sex content was funny and witty. The stage show descended dangerously close to R rated pornography. There is no nudity but trashy sexual simulation that totally violated the spirit of the original.
The production includes much dancing, generally high on energy and low on purpose. The group singing is fast and furious and too many of the lyrics were difficult to understand. That is doubly unfortunate because sometimes the lyrics managed to capture the humor that should have informed the entire enterprise. There are projections and film clips scattered throughout the evening that are nondescript and contribute nothing to establishing a time and place, which I presume was their intent. During the intermission, films of blah commercials from the period occupied visual space that could have been harnessed to better evoke a nostalgic world of New York City a couple of decades ago.
For the record, the cast consists of Sami Griffith (Rachel), Tyler Fromson (the maligned Ross), Maggie McMeans (Monica), Aaron Rutherford (Chandler), Madison Fuller (Phoebe), and Dominic Servidio (Joey). It is difficult to ascertain how effective the group would be in a better written, better staged production. What I saw doesn’t work.
After leaving the theater, I pondered whether the creators of “Friends!” had actually studied why the TV series became so popular. The creators did sometimes skim the surface of the series to capture some of the in-joke humor, showing that a treasure trove of superb comedy could effectively be mined from the special comic world established by the six characters. But overall, this adaptation does a disservice to one of the great entertainment monuments in television history.
“Friends! The Musical Parody” gets a rating of
“Friends! The Musical Parody” runs through March 3 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 East Chestnut Street. Most performances are Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 to $92. Call 312 977 1710 or visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. February 2019
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