BWW Reviews: 50 SHADES! The Musical - A Parody With Balls!
Girls' night out just got a whole lot sassier now that 50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL has arrived in LA for a month's run at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and women are coming out in droves to see what a group of comedy writers have done with their not-so-secret obsession. I'll say this - it's got balls alright.
You'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard of the erotic phenom Fifty Shades of Grey that serves as the basis for this unabashedly kinky musical parody. Nicknamed "mommy porn" for its frank portrayal of the budding BDSM relationship between a naïve college girl, and a hot, young billionaire, you'd never call it a literary masterpiece. The dialogue is cheesy and its scenes are graphically raw, but the appeal for women of all ages is undeniable. Middle-aged housewives everywhere are living vicariously through the sexual exploits of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Even young professionals are fantasizing behind closed doors about what it would be like to be taken care of - in every way - by a man who is, by his own admission, "fifty shades of f*ucked-up."
All this attention has caused E. L. James' trilogy to skyrocket to the top of bestseller lists worldwide since debuting in 2011 (Fifty Shades of Grey) and 2012 (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed). The brand has also become a merchandiser's dream. You can buy Fifty Shades wine bottles, jewelry, sex toys, ties, and T-shirts sporting Christian's favorite phrase, "Laters, baby." You can read a hard copy of the book, listen to an audiobook, download an ebook, and if you can wait until 2015, you'll be able to see Fifty Shades of Grey on the big screen.
Or, you can grab your girlfriends, get a driver, and head on down to Culver City for a spicy, musicalized version that never dreams of taking itself seriously. 50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL is meant to be fun.
Don't expect it to be an out-and-out reproduction of what you've read in the book, however, because it's not. It's a parody; it's not the book. It's not at all serious but it sure is hilarious, as long as you go along for the right ride. Sex is a subject that is always ripe for skewering and 50 SHADES! hits its subject hard. It not only spoofs its source material but also its own fans, and the book clubs it has inspired, in the process. (Musical theatre lovers - it also sends up a couple of the greats so watch for those moments as well.)
For starters, there is plenty of bare-chested beefcake in the show, but none of it will come from Christian Grey. A shameless Jack Boice tweaks this male model of perfection with an incredibly rich, disgusting, eccentric, and inspired performance that will either make you shake your head or scream out loud depending on which song he's singing. "I Don't Make Love" is his sweaty showstopper that I'm sure two women in the front row will never forget while "Red Room" opens the second act in twinkling Gilbert & Sullivan style. (Music & lyrics are attributed to a team of writers: Albert Samuels, Amanda B. Davis, Dan Wessels,Jody Shelton and Ashley Ward and the book by these four plus Emily Dorezas).
Eileen Patterson is utterly adorable as the virginal Ana and perfectly cast in the role. She sings beautifully and plays it straight from beginning to end, whether she's singing the double entendre-laden "There's a Hole Inside of Me," doing a hysterical bed ballet with Boice, or getting spanked in a compromising position in front of 300 audience members.
Glennis McCarthy returns to the role she originated, Ana's roommate Katherine Kavanagh, for the Los Angeles run turning her into a cynical sex kitten complete with an over-the-top valley girl nasal twang. She, like the rest of the fearless ensemble, embraces the go big or go home element of sketch comedy that requires an actor to commit to his or her choices and take them as far as they possibly can. Nick Semar (Jose) certainly takes that note as Ana's friend and hopeful Latin lover. Something as simple as developing the perfect character walk earns him plenty of comic mileage during his short stage time.
It isn't necessary to have read the book to follow the story, but if you have, you'll be able to appreciate the finer points of the humor. A trio of book club ladies - Sheila O'Connor (Carol), Tiffany Dissette (Pam) and McCarthy (doubling as Bev), takes care of the narration as they become increasingly involved in their new-found voyeuristic addiction. They blend nicely as a girl group, with Dissette delivering a powerful lead vocal that would do Aretha Franklin proud on the title song, "50 Shades!" BJ Gruber, Datus Puryear, and Caroline Reade as Ana's Inner Goddess, are the sexy dancers who provide some not too subtle subtext to the story within the story.
The show is designed to travel in a trunk so there's no set to speak of. An onstage 3-piece band sounds terrific on the songs, all of which go for the shock value of their lyrics rather than the inventiveness of their style. And that's really what the show wants; a bold response from the audience for its brazen language and sexual innuendo. Love it or hate it, it does succeed in that mission.
With the right mindset 50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL is a hilarious time. You don't need to have a few drinks to enjoy it, but let me tell you, it sure doesn't hurt. We had the classic ladies night out experience, including drinks beforehand, perusing the table of lipstick vibrators and Red Room paraphernalia on display in the lobby, and laughing with the rest of the crowd in anticipation. No one said it was going to be high art, but judging from the women screaming with laughter around us, I'd say it was a 50 SHADES! good time mission accomplished.
Pictured above: [front fow] Sheila O'Connor, Tiffany Dissette, and Alexis Field. [back row] Caroline Reade and BJ Gruber. Photo credit: Ed Krieger
50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL
February 25 - March 30, 2014
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd. Culver City, CA 90232
Free parking available at Culver City Hall
(across Culver Blvd from the rear of the theatre) Entrance on Duquesne
Tickets: (213) 972-4488
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