Friends! will be here for Texas with stops in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston.
Writing duo Bob and Tobly McSmith have clowned their way into a parody musical empire.
The will-they-or-won't-they Friends relationships are ripe for parody.
Like Friends, the parody begins when Rachael doesn't get married.
After a year of feeling like we’re always stuck in second gear, some old funny friends will soon be here for us. Well, a slightly skewed stage version of those pals that is, as the touring Friends! the Musical Parody heads to Texas with stops in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
To get a behind-the-parody peek at the kind of sensibility it takes to bring a singing, spoof version of one of the most beloved television series to stage, we talked to the show’s creative team. The writing duo Bob and Tobly McSmith have become pop culture parody masters with shows like The Office! A Musical Parody, Katdashians! The Musical, 90210! The Parody Musical! and a Sopranos: On Ice! A Figure Skating Parody in the works. These champions of the exclamation point say for their process a good parody begins with an affection for the source material.
“We pick properties that mean a lot to us,” Bob McSmith says. “All the shows that we parody are shows that we grew up with that we have a strong relationship. Friends is a show about being in your twenties in New York and your friends are you family.
“We had grown up watching Friends. I mean like wouldn’t that be great to have friends because neither Tobly nor I really did.”
In a bit of an homage to Friends flashback episodes, I asked for their own friendship origin story that ended up having a few commonalities with the famous Friendship six. Neither are native New Yorkers. Tobly is from Texas and Bob from Maine. They both moved to New York and found their new writing calling from a mutual love of high school television.
“We met in New York and we moved into this very small apartment at the same time. Saved By the Bell would be on every morning before we left for our 9 to 5 jobs,” Tobly McSmith says. “We came up with the idea to write a musical parody even though I knew nothing about musicals and Bob knew just a little more than me.”
“We’re two people who had never wrote musicals, writing a musical and that was what was great about it because we really did want to write musicals for people who didn’t like musicals,” Bob says.
That musical parody philosophy led them to create Bayside! The Saved by the Bell Musical. With Bayside!’s success both a parody musical empire and exclamation point addiction was born.
“A colon is just an exclamation point that hasn’t reached its potential,” Bob McSmith argues.
The One With Our Favorite Scenes
Along with The Office parody, Friends! has become this duo’s most successful shows to date with runs in New York, Las Vegas and even stagings in Australia and Poland. With a United Kingdom production on the way.
“People will tell us they learned English by watching Friends,” Tobly says, while musing on the phenomenon of the original show and the success of their parody. “It’s got this international appeal. Everyone everywhere knows about it.
“It has been our most successful musical. Hopefully it won’t always be, but it probably will.”
Part of the Friends phenomenon might stem from both the episodic nature of the weekly plots while the show kept the characters changing and evolving over the decade it was on the air. The McSmiths explain that they wanted to duplicate some of that evolution in the course of the show.
“There are arcs in Friends, and we wanted to cover those romantic arcs, especially Ross and Rachel –because my god that goes on forever – the will-they-or-won’t-they of it all,” Tobly laughs. “We let those relationships evolve however fast in two hours, but that’s also what makes it funny.
“We let that play out. Monica and Chandler are a huge part of that too. We want people to feel the same feeling they had when watching the show and watching the characters fall in love.”
“We try to cover as much ground as we can,” Bob adds. “We hit pretty much every highlight you’d want to see from all the seasons.”
But the duo assure they set out to do more than just recreate beloved scenes from the show, using the term “loving lampoon” to describe the relationship between the source material and their parody shows.
“As much as we love these shows, there’s plenty to make fun of. In Friends, it’s suspending your disbelief that this is actually how New York is. It’s not realistic so it’s really fun to poke fun at,” Tobly says.
“It’s taking the material and heightening it and turning it on its head. That’s the essence of parody,” Bob offers.
The One Where Everybody Sings
Of course, another difference between Friends and Friends! is with very few exception the million-dollar-an-episode six never broke out into song. But for Bob and Tobly, the music makes the parody.
“The story influences the songs. Songs influence the story,” Bob says. “Sometimes we’ll come up with a funny song title. We have to do that one. The rule though is that it has to make us both laugh or it doesn’t go on the page. And we have very different senses of humor.”
The duo worked with composer Assaf Gleizner on several of their shows, including Friends!. Gleizner takes the lyrics and beginning melody the McSmiths create and turns them into full songs worthy of titles like: “How You Doin’?” “Could I BE Anymore…In Love with You” and “Oh. My. God. It’s Janice!”
Both Friends! and The Office! parody were two early live shows to return to New York stages after a year and a half of darkened theaters. Bob and Tobly say it’s been an emotional journey seeing those productions back in front of audiences ready and excited for live performing arts.
”Our shows deliver nostalgia, which is really what people need during these hard times,” Tobly says. “People binged these shows like crazy during the pandemic, so to go out and see these characters they love – the parody version of them – it really is like a little safe place for everybody.”