BWW Interview: Seth Blum Talks FRIENDS! THE MUSICAL PARODY
Seth Blum currently stars in FRIENDS! The Musical Parody as Chandler Bing (and a few surprise other characters). Seth took a moment to chat about how he came to be starring as one of television's most iconic characters, what he thinks this musical is bringing to New York audiences, and his plans for the future!
Tell me about the course of your career and how you ended up in FRIENDS.
High school, college, and summer camp, pre-adult life, I was always doing theatre. But I also had a passion for math education, and so I went that route for a career for fifteen years. In 2010, I found my acting coach Stuart Burney and had some developments in my personal life and that was the impetus to really get back into an acting career while the teaching was on auto-pilot, after ten years. So I found an acting coach and worked with him. He has a studio and I did private classes and started auditioning, and with his help and his guidance I started to get roles. Then by 2013, I was really ready to give up on the acting and go back into math education. I auditioned for BAYSIDE! THE MUSICAL, a "Saved by the Bell" parosy, written by Bob and Tobly McSmith and they cast me as Mr. Belding and Others. Once that started happening it really formed a friendship and a relationship. They wrote me into FULL HOUSE! THE MUSICAL and 90210 THE MUSICAL, and now FRIENDS.
What's it like working with the same team on these varying projects?
I love it, I love working with the McSmiths. I think they're amazing, genius parody writers. The decision of who gets hired and who gets the roles is up to Bob and Tobly, but it's always nice to work with people I've worked with before. The two guys [Alan Trinca and Landon Zwick] played in 90210 and they were understudies in FULL HOUSE and BAYSIDE, so it's great to work with them again. The three girls [Lisa Graye, Katie Johantgen, and Patricia Sabulis] I haven't worked with before, so they're new to the McSmiths. I suppose they bring people back because they appreciate loyalty and they appreciate people who get their humor. What a parody is is really so unique, there are parody laws, and you can parody a whole show without the rights because you're saying something, you're making a statement about something. You need people that understand that, and once they're good at it maybe they want to go and do it again. It's certainly good to create a family and keep a family going if you can.
How do you go about taking on an iconic role like Chandler Bing in a parody sense versus trying to replicate the exact character?
First, I like to see what Bob and Tobly wrote because they're delivering the parody; I see what is it about Chandler that the script is pointing out and making funny. Obviously he's the funny one, he's always telling jokes, so in the script every line is an attempt at humor. But then for me, for the behavior and acting, I think back to the 90's and the iconic character that he was and why he was, so I have these memories in my head of who Chandler Bing was in the 90's when I watched it then. I think to myself, 'What makes him iconic? What does everyone remember?' And I take those things and I exaggerate them. That's making the comment on them. Then I also watch the show and look at his mannerisms. He uses his hands a lot and has these jerky type moves and hands in his pockets too, I do a lot of that. I depend on myself because I lived through it, so it's just remembering what was iconic about it, then I go back and watch it to fill in the holes.
What's your relationship with the TV series? Do you consider it one of your all-time favorites or was it more of a phenomenon you experienced as a casual viewer?
I liked watching it when it was on, but it was never must-see TV for me. Yet I was always loving pop-culture and what's on TV even if it wasn't for me. I like knowing what's going on, especially as a teacher. With young people, you always want to know what's going on in pop-culture, so I was always interested in that. I would say you don't need to be a fan of the show to enjoy this show.
What's unique about this particular parody musical for you? What's it like taking in the audience reactions every night?
It's great. I've seen shows that are funny, but I have to say I've never heard laughter like at a Bob and Tobly parody. It's a familiar laughter, it's a fun laughter. You want to laugh because you're so in on the joke. It becomes a house of people that are all in on the joke. It's so wonderful to see crowds of people laughing, to hear that sound, almost to the point where when we have certain audiences that aren't as vocal, it can be jarring. It can almost be hurtful, like, what are we doing wrong? As actors and artists we beat ourselves up. It's just so nice to hear that laughter and sometimes you come to expect it. So many people come in like 'oh, I don't know about this, don't mess with my favorite show,' then they leave really loving the show because Bob and Tobly always write from a loving place. With the musical, we all get to look lovingly at "Friends" and point and say 'wasn't it funny that they did that on the show?' We're all looking at it together.
What's next for you in your career?
I've always thought that being an acting coach like Stuart would be a good choice for me someday, but I don't see that happening any time soon. Bob and Tobly are writing their next musical as well as a TV show, and they told me that they want to include me. I really like the McSmith train that I'm on, and I'd like to stay on it. I love these guys, they're my dear friends now. It's really exciting as an actor to have writers as your partners, it's really an amazing thing. I'm going to let them tell me what's next. Meanwhile, I also host an open mic night in the East Village, "Sundays with Seth." I feel like I'm gathering artists together. It's all original music only and the things that I'm hearing are so great. I have dreams of producing, but for now I really feel like I'm collecting artists. And I'm always into teaching math. I'm trying to build an app to teach calculus very quickly and easily, it's called Math Trip. I've put a lot of resources and time into that. Hopefully that'll happen in 2018. With our show FRIENDS we're trying to keep it running a long time and they're talking a possible tour. Everywhere in the world really everyone knows Friends, it would be great to share it.
Production photos by Russ Rowland