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'Golden Girls' sitcom now a drag musical in Fort Lauderdale

It ain’t exactly “theatuh.” Nor does “Thank You for Being a Friend: A Golden Girls Musical Parody” have any such aspirations. All that this show, now at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale, seems to want to do is stoke some memories for fans of the 1980s sitcom and earn some lowbrow laughs by having an all-male cast perform the female roles in drag.

Not that the cross-dressing part isn’t effective. In fact, there are moments in the musical when the campiness that lightly dusted the TV show back in the day is caked on thick, and in a particularly satisfying way. But this production is rough and ragged. And the cast, a mismatched assortment of talent, seem to work harder than they should to smooth over sloppy passages.

It could be that writer-director Nick Brennan’s script is trying too hard with subplot on top of subplot. Just when the characters begin to settle in to a riff from the show (adding a little raunchy topspin), they are whisked away to add another chapter. The main story is centered on the Shady Oaks Retirement Home Talent Show, at which the four housemates have bungled their performances in the past — told in one of several hilarious flashbacks — and would do anything to redeem themselves this year.

Blanchet (Paul Mercado), Roz (Brennan), Dorothea (Lawrence Buzzeo) and his/her mother, Sophie (Brooks Braselman), share a home in Miami Beach. Their new next-door neighbor is pop star Ricky Martin (Kyle Garcia, who also plays other pop-in/pop-out parts), who proceeds to throw gaylicious, boisterous boy bacchanals day and night, much to the consternation of the Golden Girls.

Even worse than his nonstop pool parties, Ricky is also entering the talent show. The loser has to — oh, does it even matter? The show is really just an excuse to drop into the narrative as many Easter eggs as it can fit in 90 minutes without an intermission. For devotees, half the fun is in recognizing, and then nudging their seatmates with triumphant glee, whenever certain topics get raised, such as cheesecake, Dreyfuss the dog, herring recipes, Big Daddy, Henny Penny, Mr. Sandman or Dorothea’s ex-husband, Stan. “Thank You for Being a Friend” is full of them, including some comic bits lifted from the TV show and only slightly altered for the stage show (e.g., Roz’s St. Pilaf stories; mean little Frontier girls at the door; and Rita Claxton singing, “I Hate Trees”).

There are nine songs, two of which owe a huge debt to the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls.” None of them does much to help or hurt, even when some cast members stumble a bit getting in sync with the digital tracks.

There are genuine laughs, to be sure. Just as there are moments when the parody hits the nail on the head and we get an idea of what this show is capable of. It all just needs to be tightened in parts (and perhaps relaxed in others) so that these Golden Girls can really shine.

“Thank You for Being a Friend: A Golden Girls Musical Parody” runs through July 16 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 4 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $35. To order, call 954-678-1496 or go to EmpireStage.com.

rhagwood@southflorida.com

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