San Francisco’s “Friends Live” Keeps Lively Thanks to Drag Kings & Queens

In many ways, I think of Nancy French as my friend. We haven’t hung out or braided each other’s hair (which could be fun!) but I love when we met up as she’s a really intelligent and witty performer with a dark edge and a no-holds-bar attitude.

So it’s fitting that my friend-like friend French is bringing “Friends Live” back to the Bay Area through March 9, 2019.

French, who was in the original 2013 San Francisco production, is returning as Chandler but she’s also directing!

“I have directed a couple of times at PianoFight theatre and assistant directed many of D’Arcy’ Drollinger’s shows at Oasis,” she says. “Directing and acting at the same time has its challenges but also gives me the unique opportunity to improv and riff on jokes with the other actors, physically play with ideas on stage and make sure the cast has everything they need.”

French, who has worked on many SF Oasis ensemble comedic masterpieces, is making “Friends Live” her own but still paying tribute to the previous production, including being able to reuse things like Drollinger’s custom sound cues and pull some of the 90’s costume pieces that she was able to obtain from Drollinger, who is producing this time around which will be presented in the SF Oasis venue, which Drollinger co-owns with other drag legend Heklina.

“Friends Live” may be back, but it’s no a repeat of the 2013 production. French returns as Chandler as well as Steven LeMay as Monica, but the rest of the cast is new to the show. Some are from the SF Oasis theatre troupe (Sue Casa of “Sex and the City,” Carol Walker from “Star Trek Live!” and Melanie Marshall of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer). Then there’s Caleb Haven Draper, who was discovered from the SF production of “The Rocky Horror Show.”

For those who think this is a drag queen parody show might be surprised to learn that the show also features drag kings – females in male roles, a topical and groundbreaking idea used before at SF Oasis.

While French now likes the TV show “Friends,” she admits she didn’t jump on the bandwagon until after the 2013 live production as she was won over by others enthusiasm.

“Caleb and our stage manager Sailor Galaviz are HUGE fans – they are basically my dramaturgs! I wanted to add as many iconic Friends quotes and references to the script as possible, and the cast has had a good time helping with that,” French says.

“Everyone brought their favorite or most memorable moments from the TV show to the table and I’ve worked them all into the script. We have even recreated the opening credits video shot-for-shot and I found the perfect Central Perk couch on Craigslist.”

After gathering so much intel, French had to decide what episodes they would do. They will do two episodes with an intermission that will include some iconic 1990s commercials and give you the opportunity to buy one of Oasis’ signature cocktails, which they do with most shows. They will concoct something that ties into the show. Could our evening include a Monica Moscow Mule or Central Perk Coffee Martini? You need to attend the show to see what fun drinks will be offered.

As far as the episodes, French says the first “Friends Live” episode will be a mashup of two from the TV series –  the pilot and “The One With The Butt”.

“Pilots are usually good for these parodies because they introduce the characters, their relationships and the world of the show,”
French points out.

For the second episode, she’s combined is  “The One Where Ross Finds Out” and Smelly Cat, which of course means, “we get to hear Sue Casa sing and play guitar,” French says. “I set her up with a real acoustic guitar and a private lesson – she now knows how to play 4 chords! We’re still working on the singing,” she laughs.

French is often one of the ensemble with SF Oasis shows – and usually a scene stealer no matter how big her role is. She’s also proven to be leading lady material, having successfully played the starring role in “Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical” and “Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Showgirls” at SF Oasis and “Red Scare On Sunset” at the New Conservatory Theatre Center.

But she won’t be resting on her laurels any time soon. Next up, she is hoping to start working on the film version of D’Arcy Drollinger’s “Shit & Champagne,” which is one of the funniest spoofs ever at the Oasis (so successful that it had two sequels!).

To see the wonderful French live and in person, you should check out my friend in “Friends” and go to www.sfoasis.com/friends

Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, www.reelkev.com and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for Examiner.com and contributes to progressivepulse.com as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

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