BWW Review: THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND at Empire Stage
Direct from NYC, Empire Stage presents the South Florida premiere of Thank You For Being a Friend - A Golden Girls Musical Parody, written and directed by Nick Brennan. This new musical is a parody of the classic 1980's Television sitcom, The Golden Girls.
This live stage show that follows your favorite, over the hill funny women from Miami: Blanchet, Dorothea, Roz, and Sophie as they prepare for the annual Shady Oaks Retirement Home Talent Show. When pop star Ricky Martin moves in next door, his 24- hour, man-on-man, pool parties disrupt the peace and quiet to which the four roommates have become accustomed. Then Ricky Martin enters the Shady Oaks talent show himself, and the competition turns into an all-out battle for first prize. The only way the Golden Girls have a chance is to pull out all their talent stops, and beat Ricky at his own showbiz game!
For those who may be living under a rock, or may be too young to know, The Golden Girls was an American sitcom created by Susan Harris that originally aired on NBC from 1985 -1992. The show revolved around four older, single women sharing a house in Miami, Florida. The owner of the house is a widow named Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), who is joined by fellow widow Rose Nyland (Betty White), Emmy Awarddivorcée Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), and Dorothy's mother Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), who joins them after her retirement home, Shady Pines, burns down.
Most episodes followed a similar format wherein one or more of the women would become involved in some sort of problem, often involving other family members, men, or an ethical dilemma. At some point, they would then gather around the kitchen table to discuss the problem while eating cheesecake. The other women would then tell a story from their own life which somehow related to the probleM. Rose occasionally regaled them with absurd stories of her hometown of St. Olaf Minnesota that had nothing to do with the situation, while Sophia would tell tall-tales of her life in Sicily. However the plot of each episode began and ended, it was always sandwiched between the tune written for the show "Thank You For Being A Friend", and it is from this which the stage musical takes it's name.
Though the writing was mostly comical, dramatic moments and sentimental endings were part of a successful formula that garnered The Golden Girls two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series, three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy. Each of the four stars received an Emmy Award (from multiple nominations during the series' run), making it one of only three sitcoms in the award's history to achieve this. The series also ranked among the top-10 highest-rated programs for six of its seven seasons.
Fans of this classic TV show will enjoy the mélange of memorable moments from select episodes of The Golden Girls stirred together into one new episode featuring their new next-door neighbor, Guest Star Ricky Martin. It is fun to recall which bits belong to which episodes, and seeing them spliced together in such high camp fashion. In this case, our four leading ladies are played by four leading men in drag, and the names of the characters have been changed ever so slightly to protect the innocent as it were.
Larry Buzzeo is surprisingly good as Dorthea, deftly capturing the mannerisms, facial expressions, vocal delivery and comic timing of Bea Arthur in her portrayal of Dorothy. Nick Brennan's portrayal of Roz comes close to Betty White's more manic moments as Rose, but it feels like he is trying awfully hard for a one emotional note performance. Paul Mercado as Blanchet turns in a pale comparison of a performance as Rue McClahan's Blanche. His barely-there Southern accent is paired with a seemingly half-hearted attempt at mimicking her gestures and style. He also looked like he was unsure of his lines on more than one occasion. Brooks Braselman's performance as Sophie is rather disappointing. He is missing all of the charm and humor of the crusty portrayal of Sophia turned in by Estelle Getty. His Sophie comes across as - dare I say it? - butch and cranky. Understandably that's not a phrase I thought I'd use in describing a musical filled with men in drag. Added to the mix of all this craziness, is Kyle Garcia as Ricky Martin (and everyone else). Garcia does not really look or act much like Ricky Martin, but is a decent representation of his general image, and serves as multiple other characters for this fantasy sitcom plot well.
As a lover of retro camp, and farce driven salutes to the past, I dearly appreciate the subject matter at hand, and found the overall production of Thank You For Being A Friend pleasant. The set looks comfortably enough like the kitchen set of The Golden Girls, and the costuming of our leading ladies is dead on. The opening night performance attended revealed a show that is in need of some cleaning up however as it feels under-rehearsed. The structure of the show itself is in need of some fine tuning as well to make it more appealing to those audience members who are not as knowledgeable about the Golden Girls. Though this production may currently be a bit rough around the edges, the audience in attendance surely enjoyed the comedic offering at hand, and a visit with four old friends may be the entertainment blast from the past you are looking for as a Summertime pick me up.
Empire Stage is an artist-driven collective that produces new and existing works tailored to the diverse audiences of Ft. Lauderdale. It is their goal to offer theatre artists a supportive environment where they can collaborate, take risks, and develop as writers, actors, designers and producers, while exploring values, issues and humor relevant to the LGBT and progressive communities.
This production of Thank You For Being a Friend - A Golden Girls Musical Parody will be appearing through July 16, 2017, at the Empire Stage. Empire Stage is located at 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Show times are Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm & 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm & 7pm. Tickets for this production are $35. For group rates please call 954-678-1496. For tickets and information on Empire Stage, visit www.Empirestage.com.
Blanchet: Paul Mercado
Dorthea: Larry Buzzeo
Roz: Nick Brennan
Sophie: Brooks Braselman*
Ricky Martin and other: Kyle Garcia
Director: Nick Brennan
Makeup Design: Clay Smith
Projections: Jane Parisi
Opening Credits: Ryan Duff
*Indicates member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, an independent national labor union