Thank You For Being A Friend is  the ultimate Golden Girls experience (with puppets) with Dorothy, Sophia, Rose and Blanche delivering all the classic dialogue, razor sharp gags and taboo-breaking stories you remember, but if you weren't around  to experience this iconic television show, fear not,  the uninitiated will be rolling in the aisles right alongside the die hard fans.

Actor Darren Mapes is one of those fans, growing up with the Golden Girls he now finds himself placed fairly and squarely in the somewhat enviable yet scary position of playing the most famous Golden Girl of all. " If anyone had ever told me I would one day be playing Dorothy, I would have laughed," says Mapes. It was, of course, the brilliant Bea Arthur who gave life to Dorothy Zbornak in the show. "It’s a project like nothing I have ever tackled, so it’s challenging and a lot of fun.  I can’t say that life isn’t interesting!"

Arthur had an amazing and lengthy career in film, TV, as well as the stage, winning multiple Tony and Emmy Awards. She has a distinctive way of delivering a line or holding a take so the challenge for Mapes is on. "Bea Arthur is such an icon.  Her voice was so distinct," reflects Mapes who has been listening to the tempo and rhythm of Arthur's speech as part of his preparation. " I naturally have a deep voice, but I’ve watched hours of episodes, just trying to get accent and inflections as best I can.  I’m not gonna lie – it’s a big call."

The Golden Girls was an iconic hit in the late 80's early 90's and received critical acclaim during most of its run lasting seven seasons. It was actually Arthur who decided it was time to move on and the final episode, airing in 1992, saw Dorothy married and on and out of the Florida home the 4 ladies shared making room for the spin off series called The Golden Palace.

But what is it about this show that still holds our attention. "I think they were such strong individual characters; all very different, but with a genuine bond, and love for each other," opines Mapes. " They tackled some difficult issues, and the writing was so clever. "

Thank you for being  a friend was, of course, the opening theme of the show – aptly so, because these ladies shared that friendship up till the very last. And, that, as Mapes suggests is the quality that still endures.

Mapes has over 20yrs experience as an actor, singer, musician, and vocal coach. Most recently he was co-writer and musical director for Deb Krizak's, "Cabbaret" the untold ABBA story.  He found his way to this project via the director Neil Gooding who suggested he should audition.  There are those similarities jokes Mapes citing: "I think I naturally have a bit of the Dorothy “Dry wit” and I’m tall with a deep voice…"

Working with puppets brings its own challenges and joys acknowledges Mapes who concedes it’s physically quite challenging.  "I had no idea how much your arm hurts after a while.  It’s much harder than I thought, putting all the elements together; the voice, the accent, and bringing the puppet to life through correct movement and syncing," says Mapes who has been working on the show since its Sydney premier which completely sold out.  "It’s an absolute joy working with these gals though, and we have had a lot of laughs in the rehearsal room.  It’s very exciting seeing the puppets come to life."

Mapes tells me that audiences should expect an amazing cast who really have taken on the Golden Girls personas as well as a detailed set which is going to really help bring back memories from the actual TV show, as well as clever script.  "It will be like watching your favourite show live on stage!  The puppets really do come to life, adding that extra quirky dimension," says Mapes.

Thank You For Being A Friend
7 – 18 Jan, 2014
Theatre Works: 14 Acland St, St Kilda