BWW Reviews: 50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL is a Raunchy Romp
Premiering at the 2012 Edinburg Fringe Festival, 50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL edged out about two months before its competition, SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY. "The Original Parody" of E.L. James' blockbuster 50 Shades of Grey has received positive notices to rave reviews in Edinburg, Chicago, New York City, and the other markets the show has played. Now, in its second leg of its National Tour, the raucously raunchy little show is still going strong and leaving fans absolutely spent.
The bawdy romp features weakly constructed Book, Music, and Lyrics written by Albert Samuels, Amanda B. Davis, Emily Dorezas (Book only), Dan Wessels (Music & Lyrics only), Jody Shelton, and Ashley Ward of the Chicago-based musical improvisation ensemble Baby Wants Candy. Their conceit for their show centers on a sexually repressed book club that decides to move past discussing Martha Stewart's soup cookbook and The Diary of Anne Frank. Instead, they want to explore E.L. James' darkly eccentric billionaire ChristIan Grey. Unlike SPANK!, which was brought to town last season by Society for the Performing Arts Houston, here sexually charged jokes and parody feel trite and forced. Instead of occurring naturally, it seems that in the writing process the joke was created and then the story was built around that moment.
Direction by Albert Samuels keeps the pulse of the steamy musical racing and the target audience titillated. Surrounded by middle-aged women and the men who dared to venture out with them, without a doubt this crowd vastly enjoyed every naughty and irreverent moment of this show. Albert Samuels has coached this cast to go for the gold by taking every stereotype and archetype their characters represent as far as they can, which leaves the audience howling for more and wheezing from laughing so hard.
Musical Direction by Dan Reitz ensures that this cast lands every pitch in the simplistic but original songs. Each of the 11 musical numbers is well performed and the ribald lyrics work their magic, especially during the shock value number "I Don't Make Love." None of these songs are particularly catchy, so the top 40 radio hits played before the show, during intermission, and after the show are the tunes you'll leave the theatre humming, but they do their jobs in the context and moment of the show.
Joanna Greer and Brad Landers' Choreography is witty and suggestive, often moving the cast and dancers in and out of simulated sex. This aspect of the show alone earned the most and loudest cheers at last night's opening night performance, as many of the women in the crowd erupted with laughter and more from the risqué and spicy movements that were staged.
The best part of this production is definitely the ensemble cast of nine. It is these individuals that make certain audiences are treated to racy shenanigans and overt sexual innuendos for the full 90 minutes. Serving as the frame for the narrative, Sheila O' Connor's lonely, soup loving Carol, Alexis Field's spunky Bev, and Tiffany Dissette's libidinous Pam are over-the-top stereotypes of the modern American sexually frustrated and middle-aged woman, rocking everything from unfortunate mom jeans to oversized bump-its. Eileen Patterson's Anastasia Steele is purposefully naïve and unassuming. Original 50 SHADES! cast member Nick Semar's Jose is delightfully predatory and sleazy. Caroline Reade's Inner Goddess/Dancer, BJ Gruber's Elliott Grey/Dancer, and Houston native Chris Sams' Taylor/Dancer all deliver sizzling performances as the much screamed for eye candy. Yet, the biggest surprise is original 50 SHADES! cast member Chris Grace's ChristIan Grey. For fear of spoiling the fun, mum's the word here. Just know that this performance simply has to be seen to be believed.