The setup: If you thought the cultural influence of author E.L. James' erotic trilogy had hit its climax, you were wrong. TUTS Underground, Theatre Under the Stars' newest foray into the world of risqué musical theater, presents 50 Shades! The Musical, which opened last night in the Hobby Center's Ziklha Hall. Coming off of sold-out runs on the East Coast after rave reviews during its time at the renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 50 Shades! is a comedic mocking of the now infamous text.
The execution: The play centers on a book club desperate to find something "exciting" to read. The stereotype of the lonely, horny housewives who come together to pretend to read but really to drink wine is at the heart of the joke. The plot of E.L. James' 50 Shades of Grey unfolds before them and the audience, and the production moves back and forth between the book clubber's reality and the naughty novel.
Eileen Patterson plays the lead role of the annoyingly unmarred Anastasia Steele with a gratingly high-pitched voice that mirrors her character's ability to unnerve everyone around her. When Patterson sings, however, she has the vocal range and depth of a real pro.
She meets her Christian Grey when doing a favor for her over-the-top drunk girlfriend Katherine (Alexis Field). Comedian Chris Grace played Grey during the opening performance, although not billed in the program. Grace is the visual antithesis of the swooned over, stunning billionaire Christian Grey; for one he is Asian, and his stocky physique, especially when shoved into a red spandex wrestling uniform, is the exact opposite of how the book describes the perfectly fit Grey. It's all for laughs, obviously, and Grace has no problems making fun of his physical appearance, but after a while the joke gets old.
In general, most of the jokes hit their high notes about 15 minutes in; there are only so many times you can laugh at highly exaggerated sexual acts before the titillating factor feels stale. The songs, too, are at first funny, but a lot of the same gag plays out over and over again. Titles such as "There's A Hole Inside of Me" and "I Don't Make Love" (I F@%*), at first amusing, pave the way for eye rolls and head shakes (...they actually went there?). While, one mustn't have read the book to find the musical's blue humor funny, some of the major jokes will be lost on you if you have not.
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What is lacking from this parody is some bite. There is much to mock, but rather than taking stabs at the actual text, the production relies heavily on dirty words and sex jokes. One shining line that stood out is when Anastasia says that this is "real life and not a book"... "because if this was a book it would be really bad." Indeed.
I must say, however, that I was in the minority, as the audience was one huge gaggle of Chardonnay-fueled women in hysterics throughout the entire 80 or so minutes of the production.
The verdict: If you are a true fan of the E.L. James book and not looking for humor based on the irony of a best-selling novel that is profoundly bad, you will probably love 50 Shades! The Musical. Grab your girlfriends and a few cocktails and you will have a fantastic evening at the theater. Plus, it is very short.
50 Shades! The Musical sings its blue humor through December 22 at the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall, produced by TUTS Underground. For tickets visit tutsunderground.com