Encore Michigan

Fan fav ‘Friends! The Musical Parody’ at City Theatre

Review February 08, 2019 Patrice Nolan

DETROIT –  From September 1994 to May 2004, NBC ran an award-winning comedy that featured an ensemble cast (Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer) playing inseparable friends living in Manhattan. Friends! The Musical Parody, with book and lyrics by Bob and Tobly McSmith, is calculated to delight its most loyal fans and charm its detractors by elevating favorite plot/character memes with self-effacing but anthem-worthy tributes.

For example, one of the first songs poses the musical question, “How Can We Afford This Place?” — a nod to the impossibility of Monica and Rachel having a 3,000 square-foot apartment in prime NYC real estate while working minimum wage jobs. They boast about how great it is when you’re not living in the real world. Joey sings his catch phrase, “How You Doing?,” as he tries to teach Ross and Chandler to up their dating game. “Will They or Won’t They” is the theme song for Ross and Rachel’s on-again, off-again romance. In one of the Thanksgiving flashbacks, we have “The Ballad of Fat Monica” with the actress dancing in the flowing chiffon dress and fat suit that was a TV favorite.

The cast does a great job of parodying the characters, with all their quirks, body language and pet phrases. Sami Griffith captures Rachel Green’s staccato delivery and hand-to-mouth response to almost everything. Tyler Fromson delivers the generally confused, grown-up nerd Ross Geller with an appropriately sad-puppy face. Maggie McMeans is the spunky, perpetually cleaning Monica who churns through a series of boyfriends before rediscovering Chandler. Aaron C. Rutherford performs as Chandler Bing (master of the elliptical punchline) as well as several other characters who are well known to Friends fans. This includes Phoebe’s evil twin Ursula and Monica’s older boyfriend Dr. Richard Burke (the Tom Selleck character). Madison Fuller gives us a convincing Phoebe Buffay, replete  with cosmic assessments of everyone’s lives punctuated by little hair fluffs. Domenic Servidio is the man-boy Joey Tribbiani, who requires constant reassurance that he has serious acting chops and not just irresistible good looks. 

They all sing and dance with tongues planted firmly in cheeks. And that’s why this works. The show pokes fun at itself and the whacky plot devices that made it such a consistent standout for so many years. When one of the characters asks Joey if he has a crush on Rachel, he replies, “not ‘til Season 8.” They point out that Central Perk is the ONLY coffee shop in Manhattan and that EVERY cool young single person with close friends always meets there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gunther is there at the Central Perk too, lurking in the background, dissing Ross and make calf-eyes at Rachel.  (Jena Comey and Nick Palazzo alternate in Swing roles.)Monica’s Raw Turkey Head mask makes an appearance, as does Ross’s armadillo head. And even Ross’s horny pet monkey Marcel has a musical moment. The comedy also makes room for Phoebe’s quirky, pitchy musical stylings, and as they build up to the classic “Smelly Cat” song, the actress switches out the lyrics, pointedly explaining to the audience that they are not allowed to do it. (This is an unauthorized parody, after all, and they are smart enough to avoid law suits.)

The truth is, the show works as both a parody and as a tribute that fans will no doubt see again and again. The songs are engaging, the lyric are outrageous, and the cast features six gifted singers whose harmonies are just lovely. Perhaps the most telling and straight-up honest number in this fast-paced, non-stop musical, is the penultimate song, “The One Where We Make a Million Dollars an Episode.” It’s a fact. By season 10, our six friends were making a cool $1,000,000 per show.

Will this production appeal to people who’ve never seen the TV show Friends? Probably not, but with a 10-year run and the availability of all 236 binge-worthy episodes on Netflix, even people who weren’t born in 1994 are now Friends fans. This musical takes dead aim at a considerable demographic – the kind that will actually go out and buy tickets. It’s not surprising that the production is already playing to sold-out audiences. Friends! The Musical Parody is a feel-good show that indulges our sense of nostalgia. It’s perfect for a casual date (plenty of “guy” humor) and definitely right for a night out with the girls. To borrow from the show’s own episode-title format, this show could be dubbed, “The One Where We Sing And Dance And Remember Everything We Liked Best.”

The closing number, “We’ll Be There for You,” is a nod to the huge fan base that still follows the show and adores each of the actors who created their memorable characters. If the opening audience at City Theatre is any indication, this tour will enjoy a great run.

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Read more about Friends! The Musical Parody 02/06–02/10

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