Fans of the TV show Friends who want a night off from watching reruns on Netflix might be tempted to check out FRIENDS! The Musical Parody, currently in its Los Angeles premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, where it opened Wednesday in a guest production after successful runs Off-Broadway and around the country. But ultimately, this parody is about as uneven and frustrating as season nine, with weak music and lyrics sucking the potential fun out of a solid concept.
While the action begins with the pilot episode when Rachel (Sami Griffith) enters the friend group like a hurricane in a wedding dress, they cover storylines from all ten seasons, often rearranging the order of events for the sake of time. There are appearances from side characters like Janice, Marcel the monkey, and Gunther (Jenna Cormey), and each character gets a condensed version of their arc from the series. Joey (Domenic Servidio) cycles through failed acting gigs while Phoebe (Madison Fuller) sings bad songs almost always about her dead mother. Monica (Maggie McMeans) goes through a long string of subpar men before winding up with Chandler (Aaron C. Rutherford), who weirdly takes the brunt of the mocking jokes here. Rachel and Ross (Tyler Fromson) have their own misadventures in love and in their careers but always seem to end up back with each other, as the aptly titled song “Will They or Won’t They” points out.
The show hits on just enough fan-favorite moments from the series to please the crowd. Ross’s impossibly tight pants, the chick and the duck, “unagi,” Joey’s purse, and “pivot” all make appearances, and classic romantic moments such as Chandler and Monica’s engagement and Rachel getting off the plane are featured as well. And there are a few jokes that are genuinely funny—when Monica dates Richard, referred to here simply as Tom Selleck, he is played by Rutherford, who plays many roles in addition to Chandler, as a true octogenarian, poking fun at the odd couple’s large age difference. There is also a running gag about how Joey seemed to get a lot dumber in the later seasons of the show—at one point he holds out his own hand, mystified by what it may be. Some solid comedy is also mined from referencing the ridiculously large sums of money the cast made from the show, as well as the careers they went on to afterwards, with Rachel lamenting that despite the many films she has starred in, all people ever remember is that Brad Pitt left her for Angelina Jolie. Griffith is the standout of the cast by far, mimicking Jennifer Aniston’s body language, voice, and mannerisms with an accuracy that is downright eerie at times.
Those few genuine laughs aside, most of this misses the mark, straying into territory that is sadly obtuse. The lyrics are juvenile and lazy, frequently “rhyming” the same word with the same word and missing opportunities to be funnier. For example, a song called “Oh My God It’s Janice,” performed by Rutherford in drag, seems full of potential, but all of the attempts at humor fall flat. Much about this show feels hastily thrown together to sell some tickets, which it surely will based on the name recognition of the title alone. The creators also do not seem to care much for Chandler, a fan-favorite of many, with near-constant jokes about how he isn’t funny and even a few unnecessarily below-the-belt stabs at Matthew Perry’s offscreen drug addiction. Friends as a TV show is appropriately criticized nowadays for its blind spots—the fact that Monica used to be fat is a frequent, cringeworthy punchline, the show’s attitude towards the LGBT community is regressive and problematic, and despite being set in New York City, the vast majority of characters are white. All of these issues could have made for smart parody commentary, but instead a song called “The Ballad of Fat Monica” dances around the problem, barely calling it out. And perhaps most importantly, the heart seems to be absent—the best parodies poke at their source material with a clear undercurrent of love, but it is hard to tell here if the creative team even likes the show. Unfortunately, big fans would be better off devoting two hours to revisiting some classic episodes, which will provide more guaranteed laughs than this misguided musical.
FRIENDS! The Musical Parody runs at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City through August 4th. The running time is 2 hours, including one intermission. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased here. After LA, the tour will visit San Diego, San Jose, and San Luis Obispo—for more information and to purchase tickets for those cities, click here.