Trying to cheer Chandler up in an episode of “Friends,” Monica puts an uncooked turkey on her head and outfits it with oversized sunglasses and a red hat. This storyline is one of the many classic moments brought to the stage in musical parody production of “FRIENDS! The Musical Parody.”
Matthew Perry, in his portrayal of the sarcastic, scared-of-commitment Chandler Bing, was the youngest cast member in the original “Friends.” Taking over this role in the touring theater version, which made its Chicago debut at Broadway Playhouse (175 E. Chestnut St.) Feb. 12, is Michigan native actor Aaron C. Rutherford.
The production, created and written by Bob and Tobly McSmith, is a parodic take on the classic television series which ran on NBC from 1994 to 2004. As Rutherford puts it, the play has “a little bit of a ‘South Park’ put on ‘Friends,’” due to the raunchy comedy.
The show pokes fun not only at the quirks of the six characters — Rachel Green (Sami Griffith), Monica Geller (Maggie McMeans), Phoebe Buffay (Madison Fuller), Ross Geller (Tyler Fromson), Joey Tribbiani (Domenic Servidio) and Chandler Bing (Rutherford) — but their actor counterparts, including Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer.
Vocal inflections and mannerisms are parodied with help from the show’s musical score, including Joey’s solo “How you Doin?” and Chandler’s song “Could I BE Anymore … in Love with You.”
Making a parody of a show as beloved as “Friends” might have some feeling skeptical, but Rutherford said the cast has the same energy he felt when watching the original series.
“Having some models for the characters makes it easier in a way because we know what works and what lands with the audience and we know what they love,” Rutherford said. “That also makes it so hard because we are poking fun at them and you never want to mock something that people love.”
The production follows six New Yorkers in their 20s as they navigate work, relationships and city life in the ‘90s. Rutherford plays Chandler in his journey from the guy who needs everyone to laugh at his jokes to one who’s vulnerable and in love.
“It’s surprising to me how many people say that Chandler is their favorite,” Rutherford said. “I think it might be because he’s the most real person out of all of them. They’re all so quirky and weird and he’s very much the straight man, the one who notices the stuff that’s happening and making comments on it.”
Squeezing 10 seasons into a two hour-long show, the play mainly follows Rachel and Ross’ love story while redoing some of the most important moments from “Friends.” Iconic scenes include Rachel running away from her wedding, Phoebe attempting to seduce Chandler to profess his love for Monica and Chandler’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Janice.
Joey’s chick and duck, as well as Ross’ beloved monkey, Marcel, all make cameos.
“The parody is very wacky, it’s wild, it’s fast-paced and we get through as much as possible in an hour and a half,” Rutherford, 23, said.
Although Phoebe is his favorite, Rutherford said he brings his own personality to his character. Chandler is a jokester, and Rutherford said making other people happy and laugh is a big part of his own identity.
“I think for him [humor is] more of a defense mechanism than it is for me, but I think that’s something we share in common,” Rutherford said. “Something that I’ve noticed that he does that I do is when something silly is happening, my face does not hesitate to show it. I am not a poker-faced individual at all and that’s something I carry along into Chandler Bing’s world.”
Rutherford said the easiest part about acting in a theater remake of a popular sitcom is knowing the many of the theater-goers have seen the series — which now lives on Netflix after it was rumored to be taken off — from start-to-finish numerous times and are supportive of the cast.
“Sometimes we look out and people are actually riding a nostalgic ride, and we feel like we’re just doing a silly little skit,” Rutherford said. “It’s really neat for people.”
“FRIENDS! The Musical Parody” runs through March 3. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased online.