50 Shades! The Musical: Theater Review
E.L. James' juggernaut novel trilogy, soon to be a Universal blockbuster, is spoofed at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
Word is out: The three 50 Shades of Grey books have reached 100 million in sales, taking only a few years to equal the entire James Bond oeuvre over decades, making it every bit as ripe for spoofery. While this musical parody may never reach the hilarious heights of the gold standard for this sort of japery, The Book of Mormon, confined as it is to a rather pedestrian target, this gleeful cataloguing of flavors of sex beyond plain vanilla hits the giggly bulls-eye with unerring consistency.
Three presumably suburban forlorn housewives -- Bev (Glennis McCarthy), Carol (Sheila O’Connor) and Pam (Tiffany Dissette) -- comprise a desultory book club until they find literature that stimulates their fallow imaginations. As they picture the picaresque passions of young virgin Anastasia Steele (Eileen Patterson), a genial doormat bullied into missing her own graduation to work an extra shift at the hardware store, their identification is immersive and transformative. Anastasia falls under the sway of eccentric epicure and kinky tycoon Christian Grey (Jack Boice), who refuses to be touched but demands her compliance to escalating corporal punishment. This culminates in the offer of a relationship founded upon her signing a hefty contract that consents to all manner of mastery and submission, including (but not limited to) fisting. (“Just one,” she demurely points out to her roommate.)
The essence of the gag is that Grey himself is played by an actor absurdly far from Adonis-like. Boice, splaying his potbelly with fearless abandon in ludicrous outfits, displays a torrent of gestural invention and unrelenting commitment to flamboyant ridiculousness reminiscent of the voracious comedy attack of a John Belushi. He is well matched with Patterson’s persistent ingenuousness, demonstrating that the distance between prim inexperience and disciplined adept can be traversed with the briefest of initiations.
The good-natured satire makes neat work of affording the pandering soft-porn material the derisive treatment it deserves, peddling its essentially pernicious parable of women requiring rescue from unfulfillment by male ministrations of authority, while costuming the message in the garb of romantic fantasy. (This is no patch on the genuine article of de Sade or The Story of O.) The credulity of women in subscribing so zealously to this bill of goods gets a vigorous working-over, while the parody of men who mouth patented sensitivity punctures their pretensions with elan. (I felt the wind let out of my balloon at a goodly number of pricks.)
Mostly though, 50 Shades! The Musical is neither more nor less than sustained silliness, its relatively generic songs effectively aping contemporary musical comedy stylings and showy, pointlessly ornamental pop belting. It makes fun of practically everyone, and so it can be transgressively scabrous without offense, or even without losing its own innocence.
Fortuitously -- if one regards the press releases credulously -- Los Angeles is the 69th city on this new warhorse’s national tour prior to an off-Broadway opening. (Then again, an announcement declares at the outset that the show will run 69 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.) It’s already a hit, a triumph of savvy tomfoolery hitched to a branding juggernaut. If it shamelessly recycles a lot of its own jokes over even such a brief length, it also never stops pile-driving its amiably potty-mouth naughtiness to mechanically funny yet satisfying effect. A few left at intermission, while those who remained shed tears from laughter.
Venue: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City (runs through March 30)
Cast: Eileen Patterson, Jack Boice, Glennis McCarthy, Tiffany Dissette, Sheila O’Connor, Nick Semar, BJ Gruber, Datus Puryear, Caroline Reade
Director: Albert Samuels
Book: Albert Samuels, Amanda B. Davis, Emily Dorezas, Jody Shelton, Ashley Ward
Music & Lyrics: Albert Samuels, Amanda B. Davis, Dan Wessels, Jody Shelton, Ashley Ward
Musical director: Riley Thomas
Lighting designer: Katie Ringwood
Choreographers: Joanna Greer, Brad Landers
Presented by Marshall Cordell, Al Samuels and Emily Dorezas