It’s safe to say that E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey has permeated every niche of our culture, not to mention put women everywhere in touch with their inner goddesses. Perhaps we should have seen it coming, then, that the self-published “mommy porn” trilogy turned global literary sensation would make its way to the stage.
After earning rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in Chicago, 50 Shades! The Musical, a spoof of the erotica novel, played to sold-out audiences in New York and New Jersey this weekend. Created by the Chicago-based improv ensemble Baby Wants Candy, the show centers on a book club of middle-aged housewives giggling over the sweaty saga of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.
The whole thing comes to life in the form of a very sweaty, potbellied Mr. Grey, a hilariously daft Miss Steele, a few scantily clad dancers, and three horny housewives belting out original slapstick show tunes (“There’s a Hole Inside of Me,” “I Don’t Make Love, I F#*!, and nine others) that celebrate the book’s raunchiness while lampooning its main characters.
The audience is treated to a little role play when Christian, moonlighting as the Phantom of the Opera, escorts Anastasia into his underground Red Room of Pain. Thankfully (or perhaps not, for some expectant theatergoers), the play steers clear of nudity and anything too explicit. But there’s still plenty of BDSM simulation and props galore, including white streamers that explode all over the stage in the—ahem—climax of a scene. The dialogue and song lyrics are equally bawdy (when Christian brings up his love of fisting, Anastasia’s inner goddess “almost lost her shit!”) But the best moments of the show are a tad smarter and subtler, like when Anastasia outgrows her Mr. Darcy obsession and embraces her kinky new existence as Christian’s submissive. “This is real life, not a book!” She exclaims. “If it were a book it would be terrible!”
The line wasn’t received with quite as many hysterical shrieks as some of the cheaper laughs, like the site of a portly Christian in a spandex leotard. But the appeal of the show was pure, unadulterated humor—and it had the packed audience at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theater guffawing and sputtering for an entire 90 minutes. Not surprisingly, it seemed to have attracted the same predominantly female demographic that has gotten off on James’s smut. Jen Reichart, 29, read about the musical in the New York Post and decided to make a night of it with her friend, who admitted the book was “the first erotica novel I ever read.”
So for those who thought the world had Fifty Shades fatigue, clearly there are still plenty of bright young minds embracing feather ticklers, gag balls, and fisting jokes. And they haven’t even seen the movie yet.