Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, Joey, Monica, and Chandler. Those six names together are undoubtedly the characters of “Friends”, a show considered a favorite by millions around the world. On September 22, 1994, The Rembrandts’s “I’ll Be There for You” scored the title sequence of “Friends” for the first time, and started the legendary television journey. Over 10 years, we saw relationships blossom and go “on a break”, we saw every cast member move into unrealistically unaffordable apartments, and we saw the characters’ wardrobe evolve from unflattering sweaters and prints to well-fitted dresses, suits, and graphic tees. Now these characters are being featured in an Off-Broadway musical, appropriately titled, “Friends: A Musical Parody”.
When “Friends: A Musical Parody” was announced last year, costume designer David Rigler had no small feat to surmount as he had to replicate costumes that viewers had become very familiar with over the years. It wasn’t just about Rachel’s hair, but also about the men’s baggy shirts, Phoebe’s crazy bohemian style, and Monica’s love for vests and suspenders.
For many designers, this would be a dream job, and Rigler couldn’t have had more fun working on this show. It shows in the final wardrobe, which you need to see in person for the full experience.
In between coffee breaks at Central Perk, costume designer David Rigler told us all about his vintage shopping process for a show like “Friends”, why Monica’s wardrobe was the most challenging to recreate, and how they layered Chandler’s wardrobe for his surprising quick changes.
Buy your tickets here to see “Friends: A Musical Parody” at St. Luke’s Theatre in New York City.
“Friends: A Musical Parody” stars: Seth Blum as CHANDLER, Lisa Graye as MONICA, Katie Johantgen as PHOEBE, Alan Trinca as JOEY, Patricia Sabulis as RACHEL, and Landon Zwick as ROSS.
Q&A with David Rigler, Costume Designer for “Friends: A Musical Parody”
With a show like “Friends: The Musical Parody”, the goal is to be as spot-on with the wardrobe as possible. Is there any part of the show where you made it your own?
Designing the costumes for “Friends: The Musical Parody” was admittedly a bit overwhelming at first, mainly because these characters are so iconic and loved, and if we didn’t nail the looks then our actors would have no chance of connecting with the audience. I do feel that we were very successful in doing that, but now that I can sit back and look at it on stage all together, I do see a good bit of myself in it. I think that personally my style at the time (the 90’s) was a combination of Ross and Joey, and looking back I can actually identify friends of mine that adopted the fashion styles of each of the characters. That personal experience was a great “cheat sheet” and was something I relied on heavily, both intentionally and subconsciously. Consequently, I do see a lot of myself in the show, especially with the color palette, and I see my friends and family in the show as well… especially Monica’s date outfit. My sister absolutely owned that look.
Speaking specifically though, there are several moments in the show where we as a team felt we could push a joke to the next level. For example, everyone remembers Ross’s leather pants, but that is definitely one spot where I thought “let’s go for it and push it one step further.” Ross comes out in these punk rock leather pants with buckles and grommets and the audience loves it. That next step allowed the moment to get some extra laughs, but still be nostalgic.
What’s the first thing you did when you found out you were working on this show? Did you rewatch particular episodes or source fabric for the costumes? What was your process?
Honestly, I was already rewatching “Friends” when I got the job. I am a huge fan of the show, so I can’t even count how many times I have seen each episode. A few months prior, I had been watching a mini marathon on TV and the television station had aired “The Last One” and the “The First One” back to back, and I remember thinking “wow, the 90’s are a period now. How did that happen?” Watching those two episodes in that way, and essentially going back in time, provided a great deal of insight into how much these characters have grown and changed during the course of the show, along with the fashion and their personal style. Right from the beginning, that was something that I wanted to highlight in the show, and I am grateful that our director, Paul Stancato, embraced that idea. You will see in our production that our cast starts the show resembling the characters as they are in the first few seasons of the show in the 90’s, during their “twenty-something trying to figure it out” phase of their lives. In Act 2, to give the characters another level of depth, we dressed them in more mature looks to reflect who they were during the last few seasons, when they were in their thirties and their story lines started to resolve themselves. I think that decision really helps the moments where Monica and Chandler get engaged, and Phoebe has her brother’s babies, and Ross and Rachel finally get together for good. It grounds them and gives them heart beyond what you expect with parody.
As far as creating those actual looks… it all started with a massive collage of all of the outfits (good and bad) for each of the characters. Then I was able to present those images to each of actors to see what looks they gravitated towards. It was valuable insight into how they were going to approach the characters on their end. Then the shopping began. For a production like this where you are designing “real clothes”, it is almost impossible to duplicate things exactly because you are at the mercy of what you find. It really is a treasure hunt. What has proven to be a successful approach for me, and for this production, is not to design a costume for each character, but to design their entire closet. You collect as many pieces as you can that fit the personal style of each character and then you and the actor can explore in the fitting. Sometimes what looks great on the hanger does not work on the actor, and sometimes simply swapping an accessory makes all the difference. And to be honest, the correct answer always revealed itself, and it works because I’ve done my job as the costume designer and the actor has had a chance to work through their character development on another level outside of the rehearsal room.