Readers who enjoyed E L James' erotic, S-and-M-themed novel Fifty Shades of Grey will find another guilty pleasure in the outlandish musical parody 50 Shades! The Musical — The Original Parody, directed by Al Samuels and Rob Lindley and now playing the Elektra Theatre, in the Times Square Arts Center. Whether you've read the book or not, you'll be shocked, and at times delighted, by what you see and hear.
The theater's red lighting and leather-padded interior suggest a sex dungeon, but once the show starts, that atmosphere brightens when we meet three sexually unfulfilled women (played with pitch-perfect camp by Kaitlyn Frotton, Chloe Williamson, and Ashley Ward), who gather for a book-club meeting and decide to read Fifty Shades of Grey. As they do, the book's characters, or rather preposterous versions of them, spring to life before the ogling women's eyes.
There's blessed little plot to get in the way of the ridiculousness that follows. Blissfully flighty virgin Anastasia Steele soon meets the seductive, provocative Christian Grey, who subjects Anastasia to his depravity, including whips, handcuffs, innumerable creative carnal acts, and filthy musical numbers. Through those smutty songs and his masterful techniques of domination, Anastasia learns to embrace her inner sexual (and sadomasochistic) goddess, as does one of the women reading the book.
As S and M musicals go, 50 Shades! is a mixed leather bag of metal-spiked hits and misses. With the exception of the catchy "50 Shades!," many of the show's songs titillate at first, like a feather tickler (Christian uses one of those on Anastasia), then lose their excitement. While some of the lyrics are sassy and smart, others seem cheap and obvious. It's not hard to guess some of the words you'll hear in Anastasia's ballad of sexual longing, "There's a Hole Inside Me." Other songs are just plain raunchy, like the profanity-laden "I Don't Make Love," Christian's testosterone-fueled rock-out, which goes limp after the F-word becomes the song's main lyric.
But you'd have to be a humorless curmudgeon not to laugh out loud at all this silliness. John Dunnett's costumes are both hilarious and sexy. And where the story goes soft, the performers inject life. Frotton is especially entertaining as Katherine Kavanagh, Anastasia's ditzy, disheveled, sexually insatiable roommate, and Tim Murray gets lighthearted chortles as Anastasia's would-be Latin lover, José. Chris Grace surprises at every turn, from his comic sexual antics to his fine voice, and Petty impresses with her incredible vocal chops. Kudos to dance captain Casey Rogers and the show's nimble-limbed eye candy, Adam Hyndman and Alec Varcas. These three do a terrific job, especially in the confined setting of the Elektra Theatre.
If you haven't read the book, seeing 50 Shades! probably won't give you much incentive to pick up a copy. But why would you want to read when you can see Christian Grey in the flesh?