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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

50 Shades! The Musical: Rodgers & Hammerstein with a touch of fisting

I have not read the best-selling erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. Heterosexual S&M just doesn't do much for me - but apparently many married women over the age of 30 are finding it to be a stimulating read. In fact, some people are calling the book "Mommy Porn", which sounds like something to stay far away from. However, this past Friday evening, I was persuaded to attend a preview performance of a new musical parody of the novel at Chicago's Apollo Theater. I confess I was a bit curious - being the show tune enthusiast that I am - but I went in with very low expectations. And I'm happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed 50 Shades! The Musical.

The show is the creation of Baby Wants Candy, a Chicago-based improv ensemble that has performed over 1,700 completely improvised musicals from Singapore to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (where 50 Shades! premiered this past summer). It tells the story of young Anastasia Steele, who becomes sexually involved with a kinky businessman named Christian Grey. Their relationship is raunchy with a capital "R" - but it made me laugh out loud many times. I was also amused by Jody Shelton and Dan Wessels' original score, which features some of the most explicit lyrics I've ever heard ("I Don't Make Love, I Fuck" is the title of one memorable tune). And when the entire cast began clapping their hands during Anastasia's hootenanny-ish number about being in control of her own butthole, I was suddenly reminded of "All I Owe Ioway" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, State Fair. 50 Shades' score is often reminiscent of an old-fashioned musical comedy - if Andrea McArdle had sang about fisting.

But such a unique show would not work without a talented ensemble of actors to bring its filthiness to life. Jessica Joy, Glennis McCarthy and Meghan Murphy are hilarious as three friends who are reading Fifty Shades of Grey together (McCarthy is also a hoot as Anastasia's drunk and promiscuous roommate), Nick Semar almost steals the show as Anastasia's Latino friend Jose who has a serious crush on her, and Amber Petty perfectly captures the wide-eyed innocence of the virginal Anastasia. However, the inspired casting of Chris Grace in the important role of Christian turns this silly spoof into something even a straight guy can enjoy. And to fully understand what I'm saying, you will have to go see the show.

So 50 Shades! isn't just for thirtysomething mothers. This middle-aged gay man had a great time, and I could easily watch it again. It's "Musical Porn" with many laughs and a dirty song in its heart.

50 Shades! The Musical plays November 23 and 24 at Skokie's North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (9501 Skokie Blvd). To purchase tickets, call 847-673-6300 or visit

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