Friends! The Musical Parody
At heart, Bob and Tobly McSmith are just a couple of '90s children who express their love for pop culture in the form of musical parodies with exclamation points. Their most recent, Friends! The Musical Parody, is the natural successor to Showgirls! The Musical, Bayside! The Musical, and Full House! The Musical, all of which are hastily written unauthorized send-ups of the fictional characters we spent that sweetest of decades either loving or loving to hate.
The problem with that format when it comes to America's favorite friend group is that the McSmiths are pitted directly against the Friends writers in a battle of wits — and considering all the comedy accolades (and dough) the decade-defining sitcom raked in over its legendary 10-season run, the McSmiths could have worked a little harder to at least put up a good fight.
For all intents and purposes, the parody doesn't even begin until Act 2 when the McSmiths (who set their lyrics to Assaf Gleizner's passable tunes) start to use the Friends story line as a springboard for original jokes (the most amusing of which being the reinterpretation of Joey's pet chick and duck as satanic messengers). Act 1, however, isn't much more than an irreverent summary that blasts through the sitcom's first few seasons. Monica, Ross, Phoebe, Joey, and Chandler are a happy fivesome who spend their days sipping coffee out of giant mugs at Central Perk (re-created by set designer Josh Iacovelli).
Then one day, a wedding-dressed Rachel comes bursting through the door to make the perfect gender balance for their indelible sextet (costume designer David Rigler perfectly duplicates their pilot outfits). We quickly poke fun at their codependent tendencies, their sad love lives, and their suspiciously luxurious apartment (put to song in the amusing "495 Grove Street"), but it's nothing the sitcom didn't send up itself. The biggest laughs are often for the lines cribbed directly from the show. A roast loses its teeth when the subject beats you to the punch line.
None of this is the fault of the performers, who are giving their all to have fun with the material and the free-wheeling direction by Paul Stancato. Landon Zwick unapologetically leans into all of Ross's awkward ticks as the nerdy paleontologist in constant pursuit of the beautiful Rachel, played by Patricia Sabulis with the romantic ambivalence of a cool girl with self-esteem issues. Lisa Graye joyfully embraces her fat suit for the "Ballad of Fat Monica" (though so much is happening you almost forget to notice her beautiful voice), while Seth Blum plays her romantic counterpart as the unfunny joke-spouting Chandler, as well as most of the ancillary characters including a beefy version of Janice with a five o'clock shadow.
Rounding out the group are Alan Trinca, who charms as the air-headed pretty boy Joey (and of course gets to sing a song titled "How You Doin'?"), and Katie Johantgen, who, as Phoebe, delivers the most crowd-pleasing homage to the zany busker (rights issues with "Smelly Cat" unfortunately preclude that hit song from the score).
If you're a die-hard Friends fan, references like Ugly Naked Guy, Marcel the humping monkey, and the iconic Rachel haircut will scratch the nostalgia itch enough to make the musical an enjoyable time. But a good parody should do more than aimlessly point at a material with a mocking laugh. Comedy is commentary, so if you haven’t decided where to point, there's no reason for us to laugh.