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Soft porn puts on its dancing shoes Tuesday night when the curtain goes up on 50 Shades! The Musical, the sexy and silly parody of the red-hot book series that has sold more than 70 million copies in the United States alone. Opening tonight and running through March 30 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, the critically acclaimed comedy features songs such as “There’s a Hole Inside Me,” “They Get Nasty” and “I Don’t Make Love (I F—).”
It’s as raunchy as you would expect, ripping on a series of books that seem to be begging for it as they breathlessly chronicle quivering young virgin Anastasia’s (Eileen Patterson) introduction to the ways of bondage and S&M by her handsome billionaire lover, Christian (BJ Gruber). As co-producer, co-writer and director of the show, Albert Samuels’ biggest concern is laughs, but he also knows not to skimp on skin.
“A lot of women in the audience, they’re like, ‘I want to see skin,’ ” Samuels tells The Hollywood Reporter about the 18-and-over-only audience. “There’s no nudity but there’s close to it in the show.”
Samuels co-founded with Emily Dorezas the Chicago-based improv group Baby Wants Candy, who first performed 50 Shades! The Musical at the 2012 Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since then the material has been stretched into two acts and refined for a run in Chicago and off-Broadway, finally arriving in Los Angeles. It can be seen concurrently at New York’s Elektra Theatre and begins a national tour in April, followed by an international tour.
“I really liked the idea that there’s this phenomenon of women who read this book who basically don’t mind reading pornography in public anymore,” laughs Samuels. “I’m in a bus, I’ll be in a park, I’ll be wherever and I’ll just read this book that everyone knows is pornography.”
This became a jumping-off point for the framing device: a bored book club that decides to read 50 Shades of Grey. Instead of their usual improv technique, Samuels and Dorezas took a more methodical approach hammering out a script with a solid storyline and character arcs.
“I thought, ‘How do you find a journey for these characters? How do you invest somebody to care about them and how do you get them to the very end?’ ” recalls Samuels. “I would never think there would be this much thought put into a parody of a mommy porn book.”
In what could be described as the book’s money shot, Ana finally loses her virginity to Christian. In the play, it’s a scene that Samuels and company call the muff dive ballet. On one side of the stage, a pair of dancers — he chiseled, she curvaceous — intertwine while at center stage Ana and Christian fumble through bad sex. “I’ve never seen a show that doesn’t get shrieks!” laughs Samuels.
The other moment that’s a hit is when Ana says to Christian, “You know, I want to do this. This is real life. It isn’t a book. If it were, it would be terrible!” But one person who may not be laughing is the book’s author, E.L. James, who has yet to the see the show, partially due to restrictive parody laws in the U.K. that don’t apply to the Fringe Festival but have kept the production out of theaters.
“I think she would really like it,” Samuels decides. “I’m dying for her to see it. I’d love to talk to her about it.”
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