THEATRE REVIEW: Thank You For Being a Friend: The Musical
Most of us are familiar with the charming sitcom, The Golden Girls, which brought three septuagenarians, (wise-cracking) Dorothy, (sultry) Blanche, and (simple-minded) Rose and one feisty eighty-year old, Sophia, into our living rooms during the 1980s. The success of this TV show weighed a lot on the relationships and honest humor between these four friends living together in a retirement community near Miami Beach, FL. It was also clear that these four actress including the recently late Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty had an undeniable chemistry. Through the various scenarios, catfights, and late night cheesecake vigils, we would find these girls wound up in a group hug by the end of every show that illuminated the theme song “Thank You for being a Friend.” Whether or not it was meant to captivate a loyal gay audience, The Golden Girls has reached a new level of mockery that few conservative viewers may understand. The archetypal characters of these women have drawn male drag performers from around the world to take part in a festival of innuendo and flattery. And it is no less obvious than this current sold-out production at the Kraine Theater (running through July 12).
Played mostly by men with the exception of a dead-on hilarious Susan Moreno as Sophie, Thank You For Being A Friend: The Musical provides a sharp view on how profoundly the Golden Girls has impacted the gay community. With clever lyrics by Luke Jones, who also plays Dorothea, and a silly book by Nick Brennan, doubling as Roz, this new musical is more of a live sitcom with songs. It captures exactly the kind of raunchy tongue-in-cheek humor that makes you feel a little like a sinner cause you enjoyed it so much – that’s if you can stomach this sort of behavior. Get used to bad language and very adult references. At one point, Sophie claims that her “vagina is so dry it could pass for a small town in Arizona.” This production has turned The Golden Girls into a golden shower of very distasteful jokes and painful pedestrian punches. There are song parodies from Broadway musicals such as Chicago, Dreamgirls, and 9 to 5 that tend to heighten the gayer-than-gay theme.
The plot begins when a gay sex party has moved next door to the girls’ home. Lead by none other than former *NSYNC boy band member, Lance Bass, played with limber athleticism by Jody Wood, this orgy has tarnished the landscape by allowing such heinous sex fiends like rubber-chapped, ball-biting Cubby, played by Brad Loekle, to disrupt this otherwise squeaky-clean neighborhood. A showdown ensues at the Annual Shady Pines Talent Contest that puts the youthful boy bandleader up against the aging ladies all the while double crossing each other in order to win. Surely there are enough sight gags and sorely choreographed numbers to keep the laughs rolling including a memorable dream sequence that has Dorothea in the midst of a female-to-male sex operation.
The performances succeed in fine campy fashion, and their imitative gestures are sure to remind us how fondly we look back on this endearing foursome. Chad Ryan captures the southern charm and randy ferocity that we associate with Blanchet. Nick Brennan portrays Roz in a similar dopiness that gave Betty White such a pitiful appeal. Luke Jones is a towering figure as Dorothea, and along with gaudy costume pieces and gangly postures, presents a memorable impression. This is fringe theatrics at its most ostentatious, but it achieves a celebratory offensiveness that can only thrive under the spoof-hungry community of underground theatre makers. Without this sense of self-conscious irony, Thank You For Being a Friend: The Musical would require much more than a group hug for a happy ending.