Porn: The Next Generation
(50 plus Shades of innuendo)
by Drew Rowsome
Musical theatre is constantly evolving. Continually creating new forms and hybrids in order to remain relevant and to keep audiences intrigued. And then occasionally it mutates into an experiment that boggles the mind and utterly baffles. However musical theatre consistently entertains and is a hardy - probably indestructible - art form so it can well afford to send this bouncy bastard child out into the world to work its wabi-sabi mad magic on unsuspecting audiences.
50 Shades! The Musical - The Original Parody does mercilessly mock the book 50 Shades of Grey. But at the same time it posits the literary work as the sexual liberator of a suburban book club composed of bored horny housewives. Being unfamiliar with the book other than its status as a cultural phenomenon and a persistent punchline (I did read three pages over the shoulder of a fellow subway traveller but almost nodded off as the house porn prose catalogued the items in a room - it seemed to be designed to make me want to shop rather than get down n' dirty) a lot of the specific gags had no context for me. However the women around us howled with glee and literally exchanged high fives at jokes that utterly eluded me and, I suspect, the other non-Shaders in the audience. The lead - the spunky (no pun intended despite one graphic Kurosawa gag) and power-voiced Eileen Patterson - even turns to the audience, winks, and remarks, "If this was a book it would be terrible."
As a musical piece 50 Shades! most closely resembles a particularly raunchy evening of dinner theatre. If Oh! Calcutta! had not already smashed that barrier in the '80s, I would pronounce the arrival of porn as mainstream a-night-out entertainment. The audience is, much to their delight, played to and flirted with. It would be intriguing, and possibly arousing, to see how this material would play in the intimate and free-wheeling confines of Mysteriously Yours.
And 50 Shades! is verbally very raunchy. Nick Semar as the hapless latin lover Jose sings, "You don't have to douche your pussy or your tush. Or even shave your giant bush." Those priceless lyrics escalate, or degenerate, into the anthemic "(Forgive Me If There Are No Roses) I Don't Make Love, I Fuck" with the book club filling in as girl group back-up singers harmonizing in flawless doo wop, "He fucks." A patter song that could be a check list of desires on Recon delighted the audience, and a glorious sustained note on the lyrical word "fisting" was a notable moment. SNL just dreams of getting away with such blatant lack of innuendo.
Being a parody of an ostensibly erotic novel, 50 Shades! eroticizes by de-eroticizing and making the taboo merely mirthful. The big reveal of the lead hunk is the biggest joke and one that truly startles and earns guffaws. Jack Boice, who is possessed of a big voice but is less blessed in other departments, is a brave comedian who is seemingly unafraid of doing anything for a laugh. If bears were politically organized, they would probably picket, but he manages to sexually appeal in a non-traditional manner that all husbands of horny housewives will be grateful for.
There is eye candy galore in the dance duo of BJ Gruber and Datus Puryear. Gruber plays a few roles but fortunately Puryear never puts a shirt on and his impossible pecs and melon-sized biceps patch are a spectacular special effect that never wears out its welcome. The publicity photos inexplicably fail to take advantage of this sure fire seat-filling visual so I relentlessly googled, only in the interests of a balanced review of course, until I found a shirtless photo on a apparently defunct promotional website. You're welcome.
The potshots at Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables work well as visual gags. Sheila O'Connor channels Carol Channing as a wide-eyed innocent in the midst of a sexual awakening. "There's a Hole Inside of Me" is reprised (twice) and eventually becomes an exuberant but unusual gospel number. Tiffany Dissette rips into an orgasmic blast of an inner goddess-releasing blues riff seemingly just because she can and it would be a shame to waste such a voice. Carolina Read dances up a sexy storm and is a welcome relief for the straight men in the audience. She and O'Connor also have a charming lesbian subtext that is, alas, not explored – I guess there are actual limits to the amount of kink this production can present. Jack Boice becomes the inverse of Magic Mike and evokes a nightmare Rob Ford video that will haunt my nightmares forever.
The elderly male couple in the seats ahead of us left at intermission (one was laughing uproariously, the other was not at all amused). But the two women behind us - chicly dressed in H&M and torn between gossiping and texting - loved the show. When the Kristen Chenoweth-esque Kim David was being done doggy-style in the midst of the audience and orgasmed chirpily before pushing off BJ Gruber and announcing, "OMG, get off me, I'm done" the women chorussed "Right on!" An extensive mimed cunnilingus number also got their attention with a shrieked chorus of, "Oh wow!"
When the lights came up and the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" oozed out of the speakers it became clear who the audience for 50 Shades! is. In the same way that boy bands provide a release of sexual tension for teenage and tweenage (and middle age) girls, 50 Shades! and apparently the book which it parodies, picks up the slack and does for the straight world what vicious raunchy drag queen patter does for the gay world. Riffing on sexual kinks renders them powerless to shock and safe to potentially indulge in. 50 Shades! is a PSA wrapped in a candy-coated musical coating.
50 Shades! The Musical - The Original Parody continues until Sun, April 13 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St E. 50shadesmusical.com