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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: The One Where They Parody Friends

By Michael Block 

So no one told you that this show was going to be this way. From the team that brought you all those other ridiculous parody musical here in the city comes their latest obliteration on a beloved work of art. “Friends.” Directed by Paul Stancato, this parody has promise but some major decisions hold the potential back.
Spanning the ten-season show, Friends the Musical Parody follows the sex denizens of Central Perk as they live their impossibly perfect lives in New York City as they fall into relationship hijinks while barely maintaining a job. If you’re unfamiliar with the source material, chances are this is not a show for you. If you’re reading this and don’t know the source material, stop reading and binge it on Netflix. Written by Bob and Tobly McSmith, with music by Assaf Gleizner, the parody hits all the fab favorite beats and attempts to implement a plot by playing with character themes. Rather than a succinct plot, it journeys through the series. And for an audience wanting to laugh at the show, it works. But here’s where the problem comes in. And maybe it’s just me. The show is about Ross and Rachel and Joey and Chandler and Monica and Phoebe. They need to have an equal weight. When it comes to crafting this piece, it should be the core six with a singular utility player in the various roles, not the actor playing Chandler. If you’re familiar with the McSmith’s body of work, Seth Blum is no stranger to playing the man in a dress for the sake of the gimmick. If it was important to have this particular performer do these bit parts then someone else needed to portray Chandler. There already is a drastic sense of disbelief the audience is asked to maintain with Blum compared to the rest of the ensemble, but we’ll get to that later. How this decision affects the writing, by having the same actor portray Chandler and Janice, we lose extraordinary opportunities from seeing the interaction, a huge component of the comedy of this pair on the sitcom. For the most part, the script is straightforward. It’s really a great blueprint for Stancato and the cast to go to town with. There are a few missed opportunities and jokes don’t always quite land, but thankfully with a character driven comedy, there are very few recurring jokes.
Overall, this is a stellar cast who masters the art of parody. They capture their counterparts while providing their own flavors. Leading the bunch was our favorite will they-won’t they duo Landon Zwick and Patricia Sabulis as Ross and Rachel. As Ross, Zwick personified the geeky demeanor while matching the ticks David Schwimmer gave Ross. Sabulis’ Rachel was everything Jennifer Aniston ever was. If you closed your eyes you might have believed the real Rachel made a cameo. As Joey, Alan Trinca was certainly much hunker than his television counterpart, but he perfected the dim-witted lover boy. He naturally found the charm of Joey. His highlight surely came in the infamous Monica and Chandler relationship reveal bit. Lsia Graye as Monica was pintsize perfection. While we didn’t really get the OCD side of Monica from the text, she matched the big energy of the character. As Phoebe, Katie Johantgen took the ditzy blonde and found a way to be make her even kookier. For his main focus, Seth Blum captured the mannerisms as Chandler. Between the hands in the pockets to the lean in, Blum knew the quintessential Chandler. Taking on the man in the dress roles, Blum didn’t do the service to the characters he was portraying. Janice was the Fran Drescher knock-off of the time. The voice was iconic. The look was iconic. There was nothing here that matched this. Without the name being uttered, never would you know who he was supposed to be. Making Richard a literal old man was jarring compared how the McSmiths played with the rest of the script. It was the least literal moment of the show. The whole joke of twins Ursula and Phoebe are they are identical. Theatrically, it’s impossible to do this, but not having Johantgen take on Ursula was a major disappointment as she would certainly given an elevated performance.
Paul Stancato should be applauded for having the vision to find a way to make this show work. It’s not perfect but it works for this setting. It’s never too much and it maintains the integrity of the source material. He allows the show to keep flowing without excessively focusing on a particular beat. Costume designer David Rigler’s ability to dress these characters was uncanny. The excellence in costumes was due to the simple fact that the wardrobe looked as if they were borrowed straight from the show. Dee Spencer’s wig design was nearly equally as good, though Rachel’s act two wig was a little two blonde. The set, designed by Josh Iacovelli, was everything it needed to be for this venue. The ambiance, through color and d├ęcor, gave the feeling of classic sets.
Friends the Musical Parody is everything that it should be. It’s not here to change the world. It’s here to entertain. There are absolutely things that can be done to make it a stronger overall piece, but for what it is, it works.