Friends the TV show has its own cult-following, so when I heard there was a Friends musical in the works, I was curious to see how it would transfer to the stage. With Friends! The Musical Parody directed by Paul Stancato and written by comedic geniuses Bob and Tobly McSmith (also behind Bayside! The Musical!, and Full House! The Musical!), I was more than ready to see my “friends” onstage. After seeing it, it’s obvious the musical is well-cast, but at the end of the night, I found something missing from the production; it didn’t feel like a story about the friends I knew.
The task of trying to portray any of the iconic Friends gang is next to impossible—their personas are ingrained in our memories. Still, this current cast was not too far off from looking and sounding like them. Phoebe (Katie Johantgen) was her usual spunky and weird self, right down to her bizarre hand motions and singing songs at Central Perk. Joey (Alan Trinca) was of course as beautiful and silly as ever alongside a wise cracking Chandler (Seth Blum) whose jokes never quite make sense to anyone but him. Then there’s clean freak Monica (Lisa Graye) who’s reunion with Rachel (Patricia Sabulis) has picked up where it left off in high school. And as for Ross (Landon Zwick), he’s well, just Ross.
With ten seasons of episodes for source material, Friends! The Musical Parody” took a smart move in deciding to keep important story lines intact. Key moments are present with Rachel meeting the group by running into Central Perk in her wedding dress, or Monica putting the turkey on her head at Thanksgiving, or even Ross’s monkey makes a hilarious and enthusiastic appearance. The plot points are all there, but the genuineness from the show wasn’t all that present on stage, and it made the show fall a little flat.
The jokes may have been played up just a little too much, but the set designer must be given a great deal of credit. With such a small stage at St. Luke’s, it’s clear that designers sometimes have to get creative with the space they’re given to work with. Set designer Josh Iacovelli mastered this by creating foldout sets, where doors were either opened or closed depending on what setting the show was in, flipping back and forth between Central Perk and the girls’ apartment which had small touches like Monica’s cookie jar and the iconic mirror on the back of the door. It really did feel like you were on the show’s set.
Composer Assaf Gleizner had quite the task in front of him to musicalize and make these characters sing through situations people know so well, but he did it. Ross and Rachel’s on again off again relationship became a song called “Will They Or Won’t They,” Phoebe came up with something other than “Smelly Cat,” and even Joey got a little singing time in. It was a little weird hearing the gang sing together, but it actually worked, especially with the enthusiastic performances by the cast.
With such a young cast, not many of them were around when Friends was in its heyday, but with the effort they put into their singing and dancing, they found a way to portray these iconic characters. They could have downplayed the antics a bit, but that’s what parodies are all about. The show manages to pay homage to a classic TV show which is probably all you can ask for.
Friends! The Musical Parody presented at St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street, running through December 31, 2017. Book and lyrics by Bob and Tobly McSmith; music and music arrangements by Assaf Gleizner; directed by Paul Stancato; music direction by Kristen Lee Rosenfeld; set design by Josh Iocovelli; costume design by David Rigler; lighting design by Keith A. Truax; sound design by Lauren Vargas; wig design by Dee Spencer. Cast: Seth Blum (Chandler), Lisa Graye (Monica), Katie Johantgen (Phoebe), Patricia Sabulis (Rachel), Alan Trinca (Joey), and Landon Zwick (Ross).
Cover: (l. to r.) Seth Blum (as Chandler), Landon Zwick (as Ross), Patricia Sabulis (as Rachel), Alan Trinca (as Joey) and Lisa Graye (as Monica) in ‘Friends! The Musical Parody;’ photo: Russ Rowland.