Arts & Culture

Review: Roxy’s ‘Golden Girls’ an affectionate tribute to iconic TV show

John Bates, Monty Wheeler, Tom Frye and Kyle Vespestad, left to right, star in the Roxy’s “The Golden Girls.”
John Bates, Monty Wheeler, Tom Frye and Kyle Vespestad, left to right, star in the Roxy’s “The Golden Girls.” The Wichita Eagle

Roxy’s boys are as golden as “The Golden Girls.”

What sounds at first just like a cross-dressing farce with four guys portraying the indomitable dames of the beloved 1980s sitcom is actually an affectionate, nostalgic and often very funny romp down Memory Lane.

The writing, adapted from four real 22-minute sitcom scripts by director Christine Tasheff and Brett Alan Young, has stood the test of time to remain witty, tart, smart and truthful in its exploration of “ladies of a certain age,” who may have snow on the roof but still have fire in the furnace.

But what really makes this comedy – described as a “theatrical parody” – click are the actors themselves, who capture surprising tics and nuances that bring a reassuring authenticity and a comfortable charm.

Monte Wheeler has just the right foghorn voice and superior attitude of Dorothy (the Bea Arthur character), who, as a former educator, is the take-charge leader. Wheeler also has mastered Dorothy’s stone-face, no-nonsense expressions and her withering glare complete with triumphant eyebrows.

Kyle Vespestad is a delightfully ditsy Rose (Betty White). She’s the small-town gal who never lost her innocence, optimism or trust of the basic goodness of mankind. Vespestad plays her as nice rather than dumb, and his wide-eyed expressions are sweet and often hilarious no matter where the dialogue goes.

Tom Frye plays Sophia, Dorothy’s diminutive, plain-spoken and very unfiltered Italian momma, although I saw more wise-cracking Danny DeVito in drag than Estelle Getty with her dismissive I’m-too-old-to-care-what-you-think attitude.

But John Bates as flighty, flirty, Southern belle sexpot Blanche was the highlight for me with his spot-on sashaying and a breathy alto that captured Rue McClanahan’s playful, seductive vocal rhythms. Bates was also the most successful at disappearing completely into the role, occasionally making us wonder if Blanche was being played by another woman.

Taking some walk-on and minor roles, from various ex-hubbys to brothers and suitors, are Trevor Comstock and Michael Karraker. Karraker, flashing a toothy Bert Parks-type smile, also acted as emcee between the four acts, including leading the audience through a sing-along of the show’s ubiquitous theme, “Thank You for Being a Friend.”

Kudos also to director Tasheff, who costumed the guys in appropriate and often distinctive period styles, from Dorothy’s tailored, long-vested pantsuits to Rose’s pretty but dowdy floral frills to Blanche’s elegant sequins, flippant dancing ruffles and filmy peignoirs.

The set by John Hammer, Bryan Hitchcock and Tasheff was an approximation of the Miami modern look from the TV show in shades of coral, teal and sand. Recordings of the interlude music between scenes helped recreate the pace of the TV experience.

While the scripted lines are funny, some of the most hilarious moments opening night came from jumbled dialogue and missed cues. The four actors are such unflappable pros that their ad-libbing to get back on track often made the scenes funnier. The promise is that, rather than any embarrassing dead spots, each performance could be a unique experience.

‘The Golden Girls’

What: Theatrical parody of and valentine to the beloved classic TV series with four men portraying Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia.

Where: Roxy’s Downtown, 412½ E. Douglas

When: 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; then Thu.-Sat. Feb. 25-March 26; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. will be added beginning Feb. 21

Tickets: $27 standard, $30 premium, $20 economy. Catered meal available for $15 extra, served from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. before evening show (12:30-1:15 p.m. for matinees). Call 316-265-4400