I went to see Thank You For Being a Friend, the musical parody of the 1980s-90s sitcom “The Golden Girls” with my friend Jeff because Jeff is the biggest fan of that show I know. It’s not to say that Jeff is an ardent fan, but more that he liked it a lot and watched more than a handful of episodes, and is a bit of a trivia buff*: “I just remember staying home from school and watching it with my grandma.” Good times.” That’s just the type of show it was. There’s been a spate of musical parodies of old sitcoms lately, and they’re all pretty targeted to the fan base. So, I thought it would be great to have that perspective covered.
For those who don’t know, The Golden Girls was a Golden Globe-winning TV series that ran from 1985 through 1992 and featured an all-star cast of saucy, plucky senior citizens: Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan as well as the legendary comic actress Betty White. Though a fairly typical sitcom of the era, it was very well written, featured terrific acting and was often quite funny. It has subsequently built up a bit of a cult following, hence this parody.
But, as it turns out, my companion’s expertise wasn’t necessary, glad as I was to have him along. Thank You For Being a Friend stands on its own, not requiring much, if any at all, knowledge of the original. It’s a raunchy, hilarious, light-hearted good time. The storyline is as preposterous as it should be (that’s camp after all): the four elderly women living together in pastel 80s Miami have a new neighbor (singer Ricky Martin, played by Adrian Rifat) who has been having loud gay orgies at his swimming pool. Though Blanchet naively wants to join the fun, the others want the noise stopped. The inevitable “talent show with social wager consequences” face-off ensues. You get the idea. The real thrill of the show is how perfectly the actors—men in drag—pull off the impersonations of the original characters. Nick Brennan (who also directed as well as co-wrote the book, music and lyrics) as Roz is a dead-on Betty White, despite the fact that he’s well over a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier; Luke Jones is an uncanny Bea Arthur/Dorthea; Chad Ryan is pure suburban seductress mom as Blanchet/Rue McClanahan; and John de los Santos is absolutely remarkable as 90-year-old Sophie/Estelle Getty. All were perfectly transformed via Jessa-Raye Court’s remarkable costuming and Nancy Doan’s wigs; not to mention make-up jobs worthy of Mrs. Doubtfire. To see them after the show dismantling the set was shocking: these four young, sturdy men had been old crows only moments before.
Witty, cutting dialog (Blanchet is referred to as “a walking mattress;” Dorthea is counseled to “go manscape your ball sack”) works better here than the songs, which are brief, enthusiastic and sometimes funny, but not as strong.
This is basically a drag show, heavy on the camp, with familiar characters. And it works. It’s perfect dinner, drinks and a show fare and a darned good time, particularly with a friend, whether they’re fans of the show or not.
Thank You For Being a Friend. Through March 28 at The Laurie Beechman Theater is located inside West Bank Cafe at 407 West 42nd Street — at Ninth Avenue. See site for specific show times/dates. www.SpinCycleNYC.com
* Jeff hosts one of Brooklyn’s finest trivia nights at his Bushwick bar, The Pine Box Rock Shop. There’s a good chance he’ll be asking Golden Girls-related questions in the very near future, so brush up!