Thank You for Being a Friend blends The Golden Girls with puppets at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto
Picture it: late 80s, a small Ontario town, a ten year old boy is glued to the television, watching the antics of four elderly women living in Miami. Those four women were The Golden Girls, and that little boy…was me.
The Golden Girls was a highlight of my childhood and I miss those four ladies very much. Nostalgia aside, it really was quite a remarkable phenomenon to have appealed so strongly to such a wide demographic.
Thank You For Being A Friend, currently playing at the Al Green Theatre is intended, very specifically it seems, for people who fell in love with the hit show when it first aired. It plays like a medley of highlights from the show with puppets (by Andy Hayward) that bear an astonishing resemblance to the original cast.
The creative team successfully emulate the look and feel of the show. David Horne’s set features the iconic living room/kitchen and is spot on, right down to the wall sconces and floral print sofa. Mikael Kangas’s lighting is that flawlessly warm and bright sit-com wash. Director Bruce Dow and his cast perfectly capture the tone and rhythms of an average episode.
Average is a fitting word, though I was hesitant to use it to describe the overall impression of this production; it suggests a lacklustre experience which this most certainly is not. The script, by Thomas Duncan-Watt and Jonathan Rockefeller, takes plot points and scraps of dialogue from a bunch of episodes and blends them all together into a quintessential Golden Girls storyline.
Are you not familiar with The Golden Girls? Well, imagine four older women sharing a house in Miami. There is the narcissistic and oversexed one, the sarcastic one with the masculine voice, the naive and sprightly one and the wise yet frequently mean one with her made-up stories about the old country. If you have not grown up with these women, I have no idea what you’ll make of this show.
And that brings me to another fitting word: familiar. This show plays off your familiarity with the show and the era during which it first graced the airwaves. In a brilliant stroke of pure, nostalgic fandom, the scenes are broken up by 80s commercials. If you didn’t grow up with those commercials and the lead-in/lead-out music that bookends each scene, you won’t experience that giddy rush or fully appreciate most of the references.
This show is meta and, well, it has to be. I preferred the subtle nudge-winking to the explicit self-reference. The show works best when it plays out like a real episode. Whenever the characters break the fourth wall or acknowledge the fact that they are in a show, I was taken completely out of the experience without gaining any particular insight.
The cast does great work capturing the voices and comic timing of the original ladies . The standout for me was Jeremy Crittenden’s portrayal of Dorothy. Seeing—and hearing—Bea Arthur brought back to life in the form of a gay man is so perfect it goes beyond camp. Seanna Kennedy’s Blanche, channelling Rue McClanahan, is a close second favourite. The weakest portrayal here, my guest and I agreed, was Kelly McAllister’s Rose. The design of the puppet didn’t help (it’s not as on-the-mark as the others), but the biggest drawback was a vague delivery that never really captured the spirit of Betty White.
This will be a treat for obsessive fans of the source material. From the opening chords of that intro song to the final bows where the audience is invited to sing along, it’ll make you feel a little old, but—as the The Golden Girls proved decades ago—that’s totally fine!
- Thank You For Being A Friend is playing until September 24, 2016 at the Al Green Theatre (750 Spadina Ave).
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm with matinees on Tuesdays and Sundays at 1:30pm
- Tickets are $49.99 to $79.99
- Tickets can be purchased online at Ticketwise or by phone (1-877-91-GOLDEN)
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