BWW Reviews: SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY is Laugh-A-Minute, Raunchy Fun

By: Jan. 18, 2013

By now, you've heard of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, the erotica novel that found mainstream success and wide readership in 2011. You probably even know it spurned a trilogy (what isn't a trilogy these days). And you may have even read at least a portion of the novel yourself. You may have swooned over Anastasia Steele and ChristIan Grey's torrid and steamy couplings and love affair. Well, Houston's Society for the Performing Arts is ready to make you relive the release of America's pent-up sexual frustration and laugh raucously at the same time with their presentation of Mills Entertainment's SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY.

SPANK! invites audiences to jump on board their bandwagon and "get SPANKed!" by lampooning every element of the E.L. James novel, from the beginning of the writing process to the frustrating close of the published story. The audience is introduced to prolific fan fiction writer and wannabe novelist E.B. Janet, who quickly asserts that her name (no longer) stands for "Easy B___j__ Janet." As sexual innuendo and sexually explicit jokes fly from the stage, we are introduced to her "blank slate" and cheerfully immature 22-year-old heroine Tasha Woode and the mysterious, well-built, well-groomed, well-dressed, and rich CEO Bruce Wayne/Batman-like Hugh Hanson. Tasha instantly feels a spark and quiver that begins "downstairs," as last night's opening night audience in Houston deemed it. Before long, Hugh has Tasha signing nondisclosure contracts and is seducing her until she admits that she is a virgin. This throws him for a loop and complicates matters as the first act comes to a close. The second act finds Tasha on a journey through Hugh's Red Room of Pain and on her way to winning his heart... maybe. If only he did "[gag] girlfriends!"

The hilarious and bawdy show is crafted and written by Jon Blair, Ian MacIntyre, Jim Millan, S. A. Moran, Colin Munch, A. M. Scheffler, and I. P. Whalen. The writing is mostly clever and witty, taking fantastic potshots and jabs at E.L. James lack of inventive descriptors and audacious scenes. "They danced like... dancers," says E.B. Janet to the audience at the top of the show. Moreover, the development of the characters is nothing more than oft used and abused archtypes. Then, the audience is exposed to delightful lampoons of everything that makes E.L. James' Anastasia Steele so infatuated with ChristIan Grey. Here, the writing goes one step further, creating a series of awkward and surreal moments that elicits riotous laughter and cheers from the audience time and time again.

Direction by Jim Millan is expertly paced and keeps the jokes coming at a laugh a minute, sometimes even faster. Moreover, he expertly directs his cast ensuring they are all masters of comedic timing and that the action is never flaccid or limp. The audience stays enthused and engaged from beginning to end. In fact, they appeared to enjoy the show so much that many people did not leave their seats during the 15 minute intermission.

Choreography by Nicola Pantin is sinfully sensual. A dance opens the show, making the women holler with gleeful excitement. Each step and move of each dance is lovingly ripped off from performers like the Chippendales.

Amanda Barker's E.B. Janet is a charismatic chardonnay addict, leading the audience through the sexually charged and humorous tale. Alone for the weekend because her husband took the kids to Disney World, we see her write her novel from beginning to end. She joyfully exclaims, "The way I'm cranking this out, we'll have a trilogy by the end of the weekend." She also steps in and out of the show as Tasha's well-experienced roommate, the non-threatening male friend José, and a waiter at a French restaurant. With no holds barred and going for glory comedic styling, Amanda Barker is ebullient and hilarious in each role she plays. Her true shining moments are her tremendously timed and delivered parody of "Mein Herr" from CABARET and her magnificent adlibs and improvisations in reaction to technical accidents. At last night's performance she brought the house down with her merkin jokes since her moustache for non-threatening male friend José would not stay attached to her face but easily found a home around her crotch area on her serape costume.

Michelle Vezilj's Tasha Woode is delightfully perky and naïve. The character is hilariously out of touch with reality, ensuring that Michelle Vezilj's Tasha elicits a multitude of hearty guffaws all night long. Her comedic rendition and parodied lyrics for Stephen Sondheim's "I Know Things Now" from INTO THE WOODS showcased her beautiful voice and was one of my absolute favorite moments from the performance.

Drew Moerlein's Hugh Hanson is adroitly handsome. He possesses the all-American features that drive women wild, which last night's audience made abundantly clear time and time again. Each of his Chippendale-esque dance breaks got thundering screams and cheers that rivaled the decibels of noise earned by any male megastar or boy band. Drew Moerlein has excellent skill for comedic facial acting and timing as well, easily earning peals of laughter. His parody of "World of Pure Imagination" from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" were side-splittingly funny and wholly entertaining.

Scenic Design by David Miller is simplistic and adeptly utilizes a small bench, luxurious red curtains, a disco ball, a rolling chair, and a stability ball to convey location. While minimalistic, it all works to great effect.

Jenna Pletcher and Paige Selene Luke's Lighting Design uses color fantastically. Vibrant reds, deep blues, pinks, and more are all pristinely employed by the designers. They capture emotion, mood, tone, and feeling with ease, ensuring the audience gets the most from the performance.

Brian "BJ" Marchini's Sound Design and Audio Engineering are fantastic too. The dance music is loud and rollicking, while the underscore for the sung through moments is balanced to ensure that the miked performers are heard at the right level over the canned music.

Jim Millan's prop design is also simplistic; however, the football helmet that shows up in the show is sure to make audiences laugh and even blush. It is a piece that is too good to be missed!

SPA's presentation of Mills Entertainment's SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY is a perfect girl's night out. The women in the audience went wild for the show and the few men brave enough to be in the audience also enjoyed the show. SPANK! is a wildly irreverent and raucously hilarious farcical romp.

SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY plays in the Cullen Theater at The Wortham Center through Saturday, January 18, 2013. With only a few tickets left each night, if you want to be SPANKed you need not delay in obtaining your tickets. For more information and tickets, please visit or call (713) 227 - 4772.

Photos courtesy of Mills Entertainment and Society of Performing Arts Houston.

Drew Moerlein as Hugh Hanson & Michelle Vezilj as Tasha Woode.

Amanda Barker as E.B. Janet.

Drew Moerlein as Hugh Hanson, Michelle Vezilj as Tasha Woode & Amanda Barker as E.B. Janet.



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