You don’t need to have read the much-talked about book “50 Shades of Grey” in order to appreciate the cheeky musical “50 Shades! The Musical” that lands at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on Sunday night.
“Absolutely not,” agreed Albert Samuels, one of the shows producers and the director. “You do need to know that generally the book has been a huge phenomenon, because that’s part of the satire of it. And that the book has something to do with risque sexual stuff.”
And now you’re up to date and can walk in otherwise unaware, ready to see where the performance goes. If the “risque sexual” reference wasn’t enough to clue you in, unless you’re an extremely forward-thinking parent, then this show probably isn’t for the kids.
“Of course if you bring your kids to the ‘Book of Mormon,’ you might be OK,” Samuels said. “The ‘Book of Mormon’ is very sacrilegious. Same for ours, the show is pretty raunchy, but it’s raunchy in the service of being funny and adding to the story.”
From a rope factory to a musical
The musical debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a 4-star review in 2012. The initial idea came from an investor who often comes up with “interesting” ideas, Samuels said.
“One of our investors called and said ‘You know, I was just reading an article that said because of the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon, and people getting into bondage, hardware stores are having trouble keeping rope on the shelves. Maybe I should buy a rope factory?’”
The conversation continued from there, with the investor eventually asking Samuels if he’d want to improvise a musical around the “‘Fifty Shades’ thing.”
“I said, ‘Well, I think a scripted version could be really fun,’ as long as it was really funny and the songs were good and the satire was good,” Samuels said. “That was last July, in 2012. We brought a one-act version to the Fringe Festival, performed it and I didn’t know if it would have a life after that. We didn’t know if it would succeed, but it just took off.”
After the Fringe Festival, Samuels brought the musical back home to Chicago, where he work-shopped some new songs and made it into a two-scene play.
“We sold out some shows in Chicago, so we work-shopped it some more, then brought it to New York City and did a short run off Broadway,” Samuels said. “It got a lot of national press and we sold some international licenses.”
Presenters in Germany, France and the Netherlands all bought the show with plans to translate it and perform it with their own casts. There’s also potential deals with Brazil and Mexico.
“Of course, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is pretty tame for Brazil,” Samuels said.
“50 Shades! The Musical” opens with a ladies book club deciding to read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The show is framed through their interpretation of the novel and is full of dance numbers, 11 original songs and a live band backing the performance. Original songs include “They Get Nasty,” “I Don’t Make Love, I F#*!” and “There’s a Hole Inside of Me.” There are nine cast members and three people in the on-stage band.
“Instead of using canned music, we use a live band, which gives it a real party-ish feel,” Samuels said.
Last week, Samuels and the cast were in Canada, and, before that, San Francisco, where they did 10 shows in a week, all of which sold “really, really well,” Samuels said.
A review by Karen D’Souza in the San Jose Mercury News had this to say: “If you are among the legions of book club devotees who devoured this series, the trashy little musical is bound to tickle you. If you are not familiar with the plot of the books, you may find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about.
“Sitting amid the throngs of fans squealing with laughter, it seems clear that the relationship you bring to the production greatly impacts your level of enjoyment. It’s something of a cult hit in that sense, like ‘Rocky Horror’ for the girls-night-out set. Apparently, the ladies who got lathered up over these novels (we’re talking 32 million copies sold!) are now screaming for more.”
During the show’s intermission, Samuels likes to walk out into the lobby to garner people’s reactions.
“We hear things like ‘Oh my God, that is the funniest show I’ve ever seen,’” said Samuels, who said that of all the shows he’s worked on, this one gets the best response, with plenty of standing ovations and good reviews.
“We get that reaction a lot because the material is so fun and so spoofable,” he said. “By nature, it’s risque, on the edge of being corny, overdramatic, melodramatic. It’s this intense love story that spills over into this fetishized sexual world. Also, we have the framing device of the book club, so even if you haven’t read the book, you see it through their eyes.”
Samuels said he and the other writers he collaborated with took a “larger view of the piece.”
“We felt it was too easy to just spoof the book or just do a parody of the book,” he said. “There’s lots more to the story. I’m very proud of how we did it. What we hope we’ve done a good job with is helping you care about both of the worlds we present, the book club ladies and the world of the characters of the book. You get better laughs if people are invested.”
What with similar comedic musicals doing so well, such as “Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q,” Samuels attributes the show’s success to good timing all around, with the success of the books and the announcement of an upcoming film adaptation (for which the lead roles were just announced: Dakota Johnson will play Anastasia Steele and Charlie Hunnan will star as Christian Grey.)
“There’s just been an explosion of those types of shows and musicals used in all types of way,” Samuels said. “The timing is just right, right now.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2984.