Shady Entertainment

I’ve never read E.L. James’s ubiquitous erotica novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which set the record for the fastest-selling paperback of all time—not bad for something that started as online Twilight fan fiction. Nor, for that matter, have I read or seen any of the Twilight series. Life’s too short for that.

The cast of 50 Shades! The Musical. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The cast of 50 Shades! The Musical. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Being familiar with the source material might have helped me appreciate the finer points of the touring parody 50 Shades! The Musical, which came out of Chicago’s Baby Wants Candy comedy troupe last year, but the show’s funny enough in its own right that you can pretty easily get the joke even if you can’t vouch for how apt it is. You may not know why our heroine’s boozy best friend Katherine Kavanagh (Emily Eden) is always referred to by her full name or why “That’s bullshit” is her answer to everything, but her boozy slatternliness is amusing it itself. Same with Nick Semar’s strutting stereotype of the wannabe Latin lover as their friend Jose.

Played by an onstage three-piece band led by pianist Dan Reitz, the raucous songs are written by Amanda B. Davis, Albert Samuels, Jody Shelton, Ashley Ward and Dan Wessels, and the show as a whole is written by the lot of them plus Emily Dorezas. Samuels also directs the show and coproduces it with Dorezas and Marshall Cordell.

The point of Fifty Shades the book is more as a literary phenomenon than as literature itself, so 50 Shades! The Musical is framed by a squealing trio of horny housewives reading the book in their book club and periodically inserting themselves in the action as overenthusiastic background singers. Spencer Rose’s embarrassingly crass Pam is the de facto ringleader, with Eden’s Bev also throwing herself into it with gusto. The funniest of them is Jessica Kernock’s Carol, an awkwardly undersexed abandoned wife who hasn’t the slightest idea how to get her mojo working again (despite the assistance of provocatively underdressed dancers Caroline Reade, Matthew Nolan and Kendell Hinds).

Amber Nicole Petty is appealingly sweet and chirpy as Anastasia Steele, the innocent virgin lured into a life of sexual bondage and anal fisting, whether she’s blithely singing about the hole inside her that needs to be filled or rationalizing how empowering she finds it to be to be slapped around: “Sometimes I like it when you’re dominating me, and sometimes I like it when you’re in control.”

One curious quirk of romantic literature is that whether they’re reading the books or starring in them, ladies always swoon for handsome, arrogant dicks, from Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy down to Fifty Shades’ Christian Grey. A rotund Chris Grace is flat-out hilarious as the devilishly handsome and cruel billionaire who seduces Ana and wants her to sign a contract to be his love slave. “It’s very simple, really,” he tells our innocent heroine. “I care about you so much that I want to beat the living crap out of you.”

Scowling and aloof, Christian doesn’t like to be touched, and Grace plays his recoiling with a priceless wince like a baby backing away from food it doesn’t want to eat. His hysterically raunchy Act 1 closer, “I Don’t Make Love,” has him singing to the audience about all the nasty things he’ll do to them, with a bit of local color thrown in: “I’m gonna jizz right on your belly. It’ll taste just like Ghirardelli.”

As you might imagine, some of the jokes are pretty risqué, and the rest are just plain dirty. Each act starts with slapping and moaning sounds that turn out to be the housewives doing something loud but innocuous, and there’s a cunnilingus scene made hilarious by loud “Ong nong nong nong” sounds. There are sly but none-too-subtle references to critic-proof popular musicals Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. And of course there are plenty of nods to the fact that the book is as notorious for its clunky writing as for its sexiness. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen dragged here by their ladies,” an announcer’s voice says at the beginning. “Besides, this is real life; this isn’t a book,” Ana says late in the show. “If it were, it would be terrible.” I don’t doubt that, but as a campy musical, it’s actually pretty damn entertaining.

50 Shades! The Musical
Through July 28
Marines’ Memorial Theatre
609 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA

Show #79 of 2013, attended July 23.

About author

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment