Balls-to-the-chin deep in its free and fluid use of language, 50 Shades! does not shirk its punches against the source material. It's raw and unforgiving, tearing away at the scant flesh of the books, a trilogy of books mind, and bites deep, making full use of parody's teeth.
It's a broad, accurate peel of the characters and not having read the book is no barrier to the stroke of play. All you really need is to know what the book is about and the general turn in how it's been reviewed. That is the gist that keeps it going hot.
The opening lines of each song start off well and catch a smile, but after that your ears are fighting against the raucous guffaws, trying to discern if the rest of the lyrics carries as much bite. For a packed house, it's going to be as high as 70-80% washed out, but when the collective catches its breath, the lyrics reveal a blunt and humorously crass wit.
The book club, which frames the musical, still drops reminders along the way in case you've forgotten about how much sex is in Fifty Shades of Grey and follows a straight parallel with the general flow of the characters. Book club member Carol's progression into sodomy comes about the same time as Anastasia's balls drop.
Eileen Patterson as Anastasia Steele introduces her naivety in the first song, "There's a Hole Inside of Me", with an expectant hope, laden with oblivious innuendo. Which greatly contrasts the brash, dashing and magnificent confidence of Grey. Jack Boice, a ginger, is true to form as Christian Grey as he belts out a chest full of glistening sweat pooling in his happy trail when he absolutely brings it down in, "I Don't Make Love, I Fuck!" In the middle of it all is José Luis Rodriguez Jr., an over-the-top, flamboyant caricature to such an extreme that it's so ridiculously charming when Nick Semar sweeps his feet wherever he walks.
One man down front is caught up as part of a scene when Katherine Kavanagh (Alexis Field) and Elliot Grey (BJ Gruber) are on the phone and the entire theatre watches on as he cowers under his seat, drowning in the tears gushing from his face. When the scene ends and moves back on stage, the audience takes note and breaks down even further as the man now has to remove two layers of clothing in order to breathe again. This is not part of the show, but it's all part of the show.
It's bawdy, lewd and as graphic as you can get with your clothes still on. When Steele and Grey make their first exploratory discovery, it has the Inner Goddess (Caroline Reade) and a dancer (Datus Puryear) running off in shocked graces. Puryear, with only a fleeting presence, has the audience in the palm of his butt clefts from opening to close. The opening clenches rips it up. One section of the first rows pitching high whenever he's on stage, shirtless as is the custom.
The songs and sequences are spare and to the bone, but elaborate in their imagination. Ana's dream sequence later on ends in a brilliant flourish that delivers a shower of lungs trying to cope with the spectacle.
The playbill is as sparse as the stage dress. No set list, no waffle, just the credits.
The meta commentary of the book, of the quality of its writing and characters, doesn't show up until the second act. By then the show has already done enough of the gloriously unrepentant work on the parody that the lampshade ends up being weak cream on top.
50 Shades! The Musical: The Original Parody of Fifty Shades of Grey (that appears to be the full title on some of the materials) is a breezy and fun hour and sum, taking only a few liberties and hewing close to the source material. Both a crushing and affectionate appendix that is not the fare you take polite company to if you want them to live through the laughter.
Quick and dirty 69 minutes with a 15 minute intermission of the sold out 17:00 showing at the Lexington Opera House on 26 January 2014.
Reviewed on Wednesday, 29 January 2014