The One Where It’s a Live Musical Parody of Your Favorite TV Show
The titles of the songs of “Friends! The Musical Parody, ”which now plays at the Theater Center on West 50th Street, will be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the sitcom on Six Coffee Shops that linger in New York City. Joey sings an ode to the art of seduction called “How You Doin ‘?” Chandler and Monica’s loving duo is “Could I To be More in love with you? There’s a song about coping with tough circumstances called “Pivot” and naturally the post-interval number is “We Were On A Break.”
“Friends” isn’t the only TV show that has recently found its way onto the music scene. This month, audiences can check out twisted and unauthorized footage on the workplace sitcom “The Office” (“The Office! A Musical Parody”) and the sci-fi horror series from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” (“Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical”).
The shows resemble elongated “Saturday Night Live” skits with off Broadway production values. (The monstrous Demogorgon in “Stranger Sings” is made up in part of pool noodles, duct tape, and squeeze nails.) It’s “Forbidden Broadway” for those who know Ross and Rachel, or Jim and Pam better, than Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The creators of the parodies “Friends” and “The Office”, Bob McSmith and Tobly McSmith (both 41 years old and unrelated), have been making what they loosely call parody musicals for almost 20 years. “We made these musicals to get people who don’t go to go to musicals,” Tobly McSmith said. “These are introductory drugs. “
The couple, who met as roommates at Park Slope, bonded around a shared appreciation – in equal parts of fun and bewilderment – of the high school sitcom “Saved by the Bell”. “It was just in the morning,” Tobly said. “We watched him, we smoked weed, we went to work. “
In this herbal state of merriment, they came up with the idea for a musical “Saved by the Bell”. Despite their rudimentary musical skills and the fact that they had no theater experience, they wrote a bunch of songs and skits, posted a call for actors on Craigslist, and started putting on the show for free in 2005 at Apocalypse Lounge at the East Village. The place was packed every night. “It was a big mess,” Tobly said. “The audience loved it. “
Since then, they’ve created parodies of the TV shows “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Full House”, as well as a mix of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and the musical “Cats”. A parody of “Parks and Recreation” is on its way, and when the “Friends” show goes on its nationwide tour – it has performed in Las Vegas before; Portland, Maine; and Australia – it will be replaced by the McSmith’s take on “Love Actually”.
Each show finds its own balance between paying homage and sending. “We try to evoke the same humor but in different ways,” Tobly said, “and surprise people with things that they notice about the show but never really internalized.” Nor are the McSmiths deterred by the apparent tautology of presenting comedic reinterpretations of comedy. “We call it a hat over a hat over a hat,” Tobly said. “If you can get five hats, that’s hilarious.”
In the case of “Friends! The Musical Parody ”Part of the fun is the eventful combination of sharp reviews: 10 seasons of intrigue and extratextual jokes about actor salaries and post-“ Friends ”careers. There is a whole song dedicated to the almost obligatory observation of the massiveness of Monica and Rachel’s apartment but also, in a more spiky way, a reference to the blinding whiteness of the cast.
Marcel, Ross’s pet monkey, also has a song. “The idea of Ross having a pet monkey for a few episodes is the most ridiculous thing,” said Bob McSmith. Ultimately, “Friends! The Musical Parody “is a fan show for the fans.” We call all of our shows love pamphlets, “he said.” Parody doesn’t have to be cruel.
“Stranger Sings: The Parody Musical” – opening Thursday at the Players Theater with book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Hogue – also comes from a place of love. “Parody can be a dirty word in the industry,” said Savannah-Lee Mumford, who plays Barb. “What this show does so well is take care to honor the source material rather than delve into its flaws. It improves it. “
The Netflix series, about suburban teens battling paranormal forces, draws on a multitude of inspirations, including the works of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, as well as the teen romantic comedy “Sixteen Candles.” “Stranger Sings” honors this spirit musically. Eleven, the psychokinetic girl prone to nosebleeds, has a song “I Want” inspired by “Somewhere That’s Green” from “Little Shop of Horrors”. Steve Harrington, the well-groomed teenage lunk, has a boastful hair-metal air; and Joyce Byers (played by Winona Ryder on the series), the perpetually exhausted single mother of a missing boy, gets a diva act worthy of Patti LuPone.
“It’s part of the fun of parody as a form,” Hogue said. “You can add as many references as you want. “
Hogue also incorporated some of the online talk on the TV show. Most notably, the character of Barb – a fan favorite who abruptly met her demise, inspiring the hashtag #JusticeForBarb on social media – gets the big moment that was denied to her onscreen, voicing the lyrics: “From obviously I’m not at the center of this plot. “
“We’ve heard of the internet,” Mumford said. “She definitely had the end of the stick in the TV series. So it’s a gift for the fans.
“Stranger Sings” was born out of a gig at Feinstein’s / 54 Below, where these sort of screen-to-stage mutations are kind of a mainstay: in recent years, it’s hosted musical adaptations of “Star Wars” , “Dexter” and “Pokémon”, to name a few. Prior to “Stranger Sings,” Hogue conducted his own “Friends” musical concert for Feinstein’s / 54 Below.
Obviously, the more improbable the transformation, the better. But is that more unlikely than adapted musicals, say, from a B-movie about a man-eating plant or an 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton?
Besides, all of this is legal under parody and fair use laws, as long as the shows are real adaptations – not just facsimiles – and don’t look like they’re officially sanctioned. The McSmiths had only one clash in this direction. “Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t find our Kardashians-Cats musical as funny as we do,” Tobly said. “We agreed to change the music tracks into a few songs, including ‘Meow-mories’ sung by Cat-lyn Jenner, and they left us alone.”
Perhaps after a year of pandemic frenzy at home, some audiences will be drawn to the theater which recreates television in all of its reassuring and heartwarming predictability, with familiar characters in familiar settings playing out familiar stories. There is something to be said for a live performance that manages to recreate the relaxed atmosphere of your living room.
“From the start we tried to parody ‘Saved by the Bell’, but also to parody the theater,” Tobly said. “We’ve always felt so far away from Broadway. And we like it.
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