‘50 Shades! The Musical’ parodies the popular book

abranch@newsobserver.comMarch 28, 2013 

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    What: “50 Shades! The Musical!”

    When: Tuesday through April 6

    Where: Fletcher Opera Theater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

    Cost: $30-$47

    Details: www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com; this show is for ages 18+

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the 2011 book turned best-selling trilogy that produced moans from excited fans and groans from disgusted critics, is now a play set to open Tuesday in Raleigh.

Don’t panic. While it is an over-18 affair with lots of skin shown, we’re not talking on-stage bondage. Instead, “50 Shades! The Musical” is a parody of E.L. James’ erotic novel.

Getting arguably better reviews than its namesake, “50 Shades! The Musical” brings its own BDSM flavor – “best damn songs and music” – to the worldwide phenomenon. After Jim Lavery, general manager of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, saw the show at New York’s Gramercy Theatre in January, he knew he wanted to book for the Triangle.

“It makes fun of the whole thing,” Lavery says. “There’s a line in there that says, ‘Well, we know there’s going to be more books because it was so well-written.’ And everybody just howled at that.”

Famous for its grammatical errors and Twilight-based tango between a virginal girl and a bondage-loving, manly monster of sorts, James’ “Fifty Shades” trilogy sold more than 32 million copies in the United States, despite all those who won’t admit they read it.

Still, the books maintain their viral following of Grey-crazy women hooked to the “mommy porn.” There’s also a movie in the works.

It’s this widely known but little-studied fanatical devotion that writer Al Samuels and company took on in July with this original parody. “50 Shades! The Musical” brings out the story through a ladies’ book club engrossed in the novel.

“If you haven’t read the books, it doesn’t matter,” Samuels says.

“Part of the framework of the show is the books get explained and kind of made fun of in a fun way, and the phenomenon around it. Then we actually dive into the book itself.”

The off-Broadway show has strong ties through its actors and writers to the Chicago improv troupe Baby Wants Candy, known for its improvised musicals. In this scripted comedy, the cast brings original songs, audience interaction and plenty of gags.

“The troupe is great. They are just so funny,” Lavery says. “It’s not anything you would expect.”

And while those disturbed by the books were likely not running out to see the show, “50 Shades! The Musical” received consistently rave reviews for its appearances in Scotland, Chicago and the Tri-State area.

“We have gotten such an incredible response from this show,” Samuels says. “We did them in New Jersey, and a woman came up to me (after the show). ... She had mascara trailing down her face from laughing so hard and she was like, ‘I can’t believe how funny that was. That was one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my entire life.’ And she hugged me.

“It’s so great that we’re are able to take this series that people really love and put our own spin on it and do something new that people really, really love.”

Samuels’ production is not the only “Fifty Shades” stage parody. The 120-minute “SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody” has been touring for months – but has a cast of only three and no N.C. shows. The 90-minute “50 Shades!” has a cast of more than a dozen and a live band. Critics seem to agree Samuels and company strike a better and funnier balance between story, sex and satire.

“There is so much to make fun of,” Samuels said. “But I guess, like the movie ‘Titanic,’ you know how cheese-ball it is, and yet there’s parts that you just love to death because it is a fun love story. And this has the added aspect of having all these awesome S&M, sexual things going on in the book that are both fun and hilarious.”

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