When Friends launched in 1994, viewers were in for the long haul. You had to wait seven days between shows to find out how Ross and Rachel’s beach holiday with the gang went when they were, clearly, on a break. You had to wait months to find out if Monica and Chandler would outlast their fling.
And maybe that’s what helped make the show so successful – the anticipation, the dedication – though it was more likely the stellar cast of quirky characters and the funny dialogue they’d been gifted.
Of course nowadays you can watch the entire series of Friends on Netflix or 10 Shake in the time it takes you to get over a nasty cold, but what a thrill to watch every episode fast-tracked and strung together in an under-two-hour stage production and feel like you’ve reconnected with old friends. I mean, that’s the feeling the original producers of the television show wanted you to have each and every week, right? It’s where the name came from.
Touring show Friends! The Musical Parody begins at Central Perk, the idyllic café where Ross (played by Tyran Stig) and his sister Monica (Annie Chiswell) meet up every morning, afternoon and evening with friends Chandler (Maverick Newman), Joey (Conor Putland) and Phoebe (Belinda Jenkin) – and in comes Rachel (Eleanor Macintyre) in her wedding dress. She’s left her fiancé at the altar and isn’t it the most fruitful situation that could ever come her way? Now she’s found these friends!
What follows – dating horrors and heartbreaks, job fluctuations, giving birth to your brother’s triplets – is parodied in this performance at the Dunstan Playhouse, and fans of the sitcom (which is to say, almost the entire audience) are completely on board.
Let’s be clear: Friends! The Musical Parody, an off-Broadway and Vegas hit, will not be of any interest to non-fans, because the jokes are only funny if you know and love the eccentricities of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey. Perhaps that’s a failing of the show, or perhaps it’s just what makes any parody successful.
Book and lyric-writers Bob and Tobly McSmith, who have also worked on theatrical spoofs of 90210 and Full House, seem on a mission to keep it simple and recognisable, playing it safe with the jokes viewers loved the first time around. The cast re-enact Monica’s explanation of the seven erogenous zones, the time Joey wore all of Chandler’s clothes, Ross’s indignation with someone at work who ate his sandwich… and it’s hilarious.
But if you’re looking to extend your reading of what the TV show was into and what it could be today (if we consider the fact it didn’t portray a multicultural New York City and wasn’t empathetic to LGBTIQ people, or those with mental illnesses), and you were hoping for some recompense – sorry, this is all lampoon; nothing remotely current or cerebral.
Eleanor Macintyre as Rachel and Tyran Stig as Ross are stand-outs, as they’re most closely attuned with their characters’ affectations, including facial expressions, embodiment and vocalisation. Maverick Newman (could you get a better name for an actor?), as Chandler, is also very strong in his physicality, but his character really isn’t given much of a chance to break out; rather, he’s stuck in a cycle of making bad jokes that cause the rest of the crew to groan.
Probably the most profound performance comes from the Dom Hennequin, who plays Gunther and Richard-as-Tom-Selleck-as-caricature-of-really-old-man (among others), because he moves beyond the on-screen characters and becomes fresh and sometimes even conceptual. But, as we’ve said, there’s no need to go conceptual – this is musical parody!
For a break from over-thinking and a guaranteed clean, nostalgic and indulgent good time out, give yourself over to these friends, who are, if you still want them to be, there for you.
Friends! The Musical Parody is at the Dunstan Playhouse until May 15.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.