50 Shades! The Musical, playing two shows nightly through Saturday in Raleigh’s A.J. Fletcher Opera Theatre as part of the Broadway Series South series, milks its double entendres like a herd of Holsteins. These laugh-out-loud 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. performances deliver kink with a wink. If 50 Shades! were a motion picture, it would be R rated (for strong language throughout, heavy drinking, pervasive sexual innuendo, and simulated sex). But it’s sex for laughs, with a couple of bare-chested male dancers outfitted like Chippendales and a female dancer wearing black-lace undies and a smirk; but — sorry, guys and gals — there is no graphic nudity to spice up the proceedings.
The fun starts with meeting of a trio of stay-at-home housewives, played with brio by spunky Spencer Rose as Pam, sassy Emily Eden as Bev, and perky Jessica Kemock as Carol. It’s time to choose the next book that the group will read together, and Pam brazenly suggests the bestselling 2011 British novel of sadism and masochism Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. So, for the next several months, the women will spend their morning coffee klatches discussing the sado-masochistic relationship between the virginal 21-year-old college senior Anastasia “Ana” Steele and bondage-loving 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey. The concept that each woman should get in touch with her “inner goddess,” and allow it to propel her into all sorts of heretofore taboo sexual activities transforms the book club into a sexual-education class exploring the ideas of bondage and discipline and dominance and submission. Later comes (pun intended) “homework”, with Pam and Bev surprising their husbands with kinky boudoir sessions and Carol — whose husband has left her before the show starts — left to explore sex-and-the-single-girl options.
The inspired casting of plump, middle-aged Amber Nicole Petty and roly-poly, middle-aged Chris Grace as the two twenty-somethings Ana and Christian heightens the hilarity of this savage spoof of aberrant sexual practices that involve blindfolds, handcuffs, nipple clamps, and fisting. Petty gets belly-laughs from the double entendres in Ana’s anthem, “There’s a Hole Inside of Me.”; and Grace stops the show twice — first when he saunters onto the stage in a red wrestler’s singlet, with his pot belly protruding, and proceeds to do a series of warm-up exercises and then again when he belts out Christian’s signature song, “I Don’t Make Love, I F**k.”
Emily Eden is a real scene-stealer with her outrageous antics as Ana’s oversexed, completely uninhibited, and perpetually sozzled bestfriend Katherine Kavanagh, who will drop her knickers for any guy who shows the slightest interest in her. Nick Semar hams it up hilariously as the annoying photographer and infernally persistent would-be Latin lover Jose, who comes on to Ana so strong that he scares her away; and Matt Nolan adds a nice comic cameo as Christian’s brother, Elliot, who boffs Katherine Kavanagh in the middle of the audience in one of the show’s funniest segments. Nolan also teams with Victor Sho and Caroline Reade to form the scantily clad trio mentioned above.
Director Al Samuels sets a brisk pace for this romp through Grey’s anatomy lessons for Ana; and the onstage band — Jody Shelton (keyboards), Johnny Pisano (bass), and Al Veteri (drums) — pumps up the volume, sometimes drowning out the lyrics. But sound technician Chris Landry can fix that problem in a trice.
The arrival of the ostentatiously bawdy 50 Shades! The Musical in Raleigh just after Easter may scorch the shorts of the local smut snatchers, but open-minded audiences will have a grand time with this delightfully devilish satire of the Fifty Shades of Grey. The audience may turn Fifty Shades of Red at the scandalous goings-on onstage, but they won’t stop laughing until long after the musical ends.
SECOND OPINION: April 3rd Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Emma Miller: http://www.indyweek.com/artery/archives/2013/04/03/embrace-your-inner-goddess-50-shades-of-musical-kink; April 3rd Raleigh, NC NBC-17 WNCN interview with Spencer Rose, Jessica Kemock, and Emily Eden, conducted by Valonda Calloway and Dave Kent for “My Carolina Today”: http://www.wncn.com/video?clipId=8737050; and March 28th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Andrew Branch: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/03/28/2783861/50-shades-the-musical-parodies.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the April 2nd Triangle Review review by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/04/the-original-parody-50-shades-the-musical-will-titillate-and-tickle-triangle-audiences-on-april-2-6/.)
Broadway Series South presents 50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. April 4-6 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $39.10-$57.30 (including fees).
Duke Energy Center Box Office: 919-996-8700 or firstname.lastname@example.org (information only).
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/1794310.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-857-4565, email@example.com, or http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south/group-sales. SHOW: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/50-shades-the-musical-3687.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H_omK7iqvQ.
50 Shades! The Musical: http://50shadesmusical.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/50ShadesTheMusical (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/musical50shades (Twitter page).
Act 5 Entertainment: http://www.act5ent.com/ (official website).
Albert Samuels (writer, producer, director): http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/mastery/coaches/samuels.html (Stanford University Graduate School of Business bio).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.