Is America sick of Fifty Shades of Grey? Based on the success of two touring musical parodies, the answer is “not yet.”
The books may have finally relinquished their Kegel grip on the bestseller lists, but there’s enough interest in the craze to support two competing musical parodies (Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody and 50 Shades! The Musical). I thought I should check one of them out, if only to see how many of jokes they stole from my own parody, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey.
I caught Spank! at the historic Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this past weekend, and I’m happy to say it wildly exceeded my expectations. (I may have even been a little ticked they didn’t borrow any of the gags from my book.) I give the production two thumbs solidly up the butt.
The plot follows a bored housewife (“E.B. Janet”) as she drunkenly pens an erotic bestseller over the course of a single weekend. Janet is a sexually frustrated woman who spends her days drinking Chardonnay and her nights writing Home Improvement fanfic about Tim “The Toolman” Taylor. When she begins writing her latest erotic fantasy, her hero (“Hugh Hanson”) and heroine (“Tasha Woode”) appear onstage and act out her outlandish story. It’s all very meta—and very funny.
Spank! is just dirty enough to make it awkward when you’re there with your mother, as I was. (Just try explaining a line like “I was fisted by Thor’s hammer!” to your family.) There is no explicit sex or even spanking, although the actors make brilliant use of a limited selection of props, including a Batman cape and a dildo affixed to a football helmet.
When specific lines of dialogue and scenes from E.L. James’ books were parodied onstage, the crowd’s response was lukewarm. This could be because the Fifty Shades madness peaked last summer and readers haven’t touched the books since then, or that many audience members had never read the books in the first place. Either way, the trio of talented actors (Danielle Trzcinski as Tasha Woode, Gabe Bowling as Hugh Hanson, and Anne Marie Scheffler as E.B. Janet) had the crowd rolling with laughter throughout the 90-minute production with broad and bawdy humor, including some riot-inducing audience participation.
Speaking of the audience, this was marketed as a “girl’s night out” event and lived up to its billing. According to one venue employee speaking off the record, only thirteen men bought tickets. (I counted about two dozen guys in attendance in the capacity crowd at the 1,700-seat venue.) Two of the three men’s rooms were changed to women’s for the evening. At intermission, a pack of women overwhelmed the poor security guard posted at the only remaining men’s room, compromising the last male stronghold until extra security arrived to flush the women out.