Every now and then you come across a critic-proof show — a theatrical property with producers that have successfully targeted an audience that doesn’t care what theater reviewers think.
“50 Shades! The Musical Parody” is just such a show. Its creators knew exactly what they were about. They weren’t out to create high art.
Their goal was to create a money machine in the form of a dopey R-rated show that has managed to hitch a ride in the slipstream of a trilogy of international best-selling books and now a big-budget movie, “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
The touring production that set up shop at Starlight Theatre this week offers plenty of onstage talent and minimal production values. It earns an asterisk in local theater annals by being the first indoor show presented at the big outdoor showplace in Swope Park.
About 500 seats positioned on steeply raked risers have been set up on the big enclosed stage. Despite the fact that the rows of straight-back chairs are so closely aligned that you could easily rest your feet on the shoulders of the viewer directly in front of you, it’s not a bad setup. Everybody gets a good view of the stage, even though the reduced playing area still seems too big for this show.
And what of the show itself? Getting laughs with low-brow sex jokes isn’t exactly rocket science, but the material — written by a committee of contributors — does have an audacious, in-your-face quality.
I imagine it might be something like a sorority-house party with unseemly skits. This piece seems aimed directly at middle-class women, who were out Tuesday in big numbers for the opening-night performance. The minority of men in the audience looked pretty lonely. But the ladies guffawed and whooped at the onstage antics in a way I’ve seen female theatergoers respond to “Menopause the Musical.”
Here’s all you really need to know: This show cuts to the chase from the first moment. If you’re in the mood for coy metaphors and witty double entendres, stay home. The lyrics and dialogue don’t waste any time getting down and dirty, throwing out raw jokes in which F-bombs are the main currency. Also prevalent is a full range of anatomical allusions that wouldn’t be out of place in a locker room.
The setup is the choice of “Fifty Shades of Grey” for a women’s book club. Three middle-class, sexually frustrated gals spice up their lives considerably by reading the book’s salacious descriptions of bondage, spanking and other forms of “adventurous” sex.
The actresses — Melanie Brook, Alexis Field and Emily McLoughlin — handle the extreme humor with professionalism as scenes from the book come to life.
Katie LaMark is amusingly broad as the book’s heroine, the comically naive Anastasia Steele. The producers created an instantaneous visual joke by casting a rotund actor as the suave international business tycoon Christian Grey; Ben Caplan makes the most of it with a belly-shaking performance and sharp comic timing. He also gets one of the show’s rowdiest numbers — “I Don’t Make Love,” a raucous declaration of sexual intent that allows him to interact with the audience.
Diego Klock-Perez is memorable as the balletic Jose, whose desire Anastasia apparently kindles by doing no more than existing. Three sexy backup dancers — Matthew Alexander, Hana Freeman and Adam Hyndman — have fun with Mindy Cooper’s quirky choreography.
So there you have it. “50 Shades” is what it is.