Growing up in an era where parodies tailored to either the lowest common denominator or otherwise tried to be too clever for their own good, I have concluded that there is not much of a spectrum when it comes to them. They are either hilarious, witty and draw from the source material’s highlights or downright terrible by not feeling like the creators fully appreciated the original works. Unfortunately, many more tend to skew to the negative side of things.
With very few television sitcoms reaching anywhere near the level of popularity as Friends did in the 90s and early 2000s, with a decade-long run and a loyal fanbase to this day, delivering a fantastic parody of it has the potential to go far. For the last few years, Friends! The Musical Parody has been presented in New York and Las Vegas. After a few hiccups due to COVID-19, it finally enjoyed its Australian Premiere this weekend kudos of producer SK Entertainment. Fortunately, any concerns about its quality were quickly alleviated, and it proved to be a tremendous hit.
After starting approximately 20 minutes late kudos of the slow pace that people wandered into the theatre at (and yes, this is one thing I didn’t miss about the performing arts), my annoyance and tension was fortunately allayed by a fun bit of audience participation run by Chris Huntly-Turner (The actor for Gunther). A brief ten-minute segment involving the audience showcasing their knowledge of the Friends chronology got the audience in an upbeat mood before the curtain of the New York fountain rose and the show put us in the first scene at Central Perk.
The narrative and its songs span the full ten seasons, although many episodes are dropped or otherwise relegated to mere references, emphasising the first few and last few seasons. It would have been easy for the writers to get lost in hundreds of fan-favourite scenes, but instead, they focused on three distinguishable approaches – telling critical stories from the series’ history, the characters becoming self-aware about the absurdity of certain scenes, and completely breaking the fourth wall.
It leads to some clever songs, from how these characters can afford such large apartments in the heart of New York City and a song dedicated to “How You Doin'”, to a ‘flashback’ song about Monica being in a fat suit. I am sure some attendees will be disappointed more of the songs were not made from scenes directly from the show, but it makes for a fun romp accessible to mere fans of the show to die-hard fans.
Because “in life, there are no intermissions”, Friends! The Musical Parody runs for its whole runtime without the standard 20-minute interval. This is impressive on the part of the cast, as they are on-stage virtually all the time between outfit (and on the odd occasion, character) changes. Just because the show has “Parody” in its title, doesn’t mean we are dealing with sub-par actors either, with all seven cast members being of the quality you would expect to see in the biggest musicals.
Stefanie Jones (Monica), Rowan Witt (Chandler) and Chris Huntly-Turner (Gunther) just slightly were my favourite three actors on-stage. While not perfect replicas of their TV counterparts, they each delivered the mannerisms of their characters flawlessly. Sarah Krndija, Belinda Jenkin, Joseph Spanti and Tyran Stig were also outstanding as their respectful friends. Even if you believe that “nobody can come close to the original show’s cast”… well these seven all come pretty darn close.
With COVID-19 putting a strain on household budgets in many ways, the trip to the theatre is now more than ever a luxury – and many would want to know a show was good before spending the money to spend the night out. This is not a show for those who have never watched Friends before or who may have watched it on-and-off each time a free-to-air television network picked the show up. It assumes you have watched the entire show and makes no effort to hold your hand through the jokes and songs. For those who have watched the whole show and love it, then there is so much to love – with clever jokes, wise narrative choices and a few clever ways of getting around “copyright”. Could it have been two hours longer? Perhaps… but even four hours might not be enough.
My trip to see Friends! The Musical Parody was the first time I had ventured to a performing arts venue since COVID-19 struck, and my expectations were high. And it did more than fill the gap a year without theatre had left in my heart. While it is now too late to see its Australian Premiere at the Star Casino on the Gold Coast – it will be touring the country throughout 2021, including an encore Queensland season at The Tivoli from 19-21 August 2021.