How “50 Shades” of ropes, chains and laughs arrived on L.A.’s Westside theater scene
By Michael Aushenker
Something wicked this way comes to the Westside. Wicked funny, if its creators have their comedic way with audiences.
Produced by Marshall Cordell, Albert Samuels and Emily Dorezas, “50 Shades! The Musical” launched its L.A. premiere on Tuesday at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
The musical is a spoof of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the first in a trilogy of erotic novels that captured the hearts and loins of housewives worldwide beginning in 2011. The books chronicle the deepening BDSM-centric sexual odyssey between self-made businessman Christian Grey, 27, and Anastasia Steele, the Washington University student journalist he seduces.
Samuels, who in 1998 founded the Chicago-based comedy improv group Baby Wants Candy, never thought he would wind up in Los Angeles to do theater.
“I moved to L.A. to do film and TV. I had no idea I’d become the producer of a show playing off-Broadway and around the world,” he said.
But in 2012, he got a call from Cordell, who was flummoxed by an article he had read on the popularity of E. L. James’ books.
“You know, I’ve been reading about this phenomenon,” Samuels recalled Cordell saying. “All these hardware stores are running out of rope. Maybe I should buy a rope factory.”
It was a second idea that stuck: an onstage send-up.
Originally, Cordell had in mind to mount “50 Shades! The Musical” as a Baby Wants Candy production, but Samuels insisted on making the play its own entity. The show launched in Chicago, and a touring company has already played San Francisco, Washington DC and Philadelphia, and, after L.A., heads to Toronto. An off-Broadway version opens on March 12 in New York. Internationally, “50 Shades! The Musical” has already played in France, Germany and Holland, with Spain, Finland and South Korea pending.
The show goofs on “not just the books themselves, but the phenomenon around it,” Samuels said.
“50 Shades! The Musical” is built around the comedic conceit of a book club of housewives reading the first novel.
While there are nods to James’ 2012 sequels “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed,” the play mostly hangs on the template-setting original. Samuels assures that enjoyment of his musical is not dependent on knowing these books intimately, so to speak.
Samuels, whose television series “Sports Action Team” ran for two seasons on NBC, will resume teaching his class on musical comedy at Princeton in August. Having invested much time and thought into lampooning James’ trilogy, he can see why her books struck a chord with a primarily female, perhaps sexually repressed readership. Pointing to the success of shows such as “Sex and the City” and “Desperate Housewives,” Samuels said he appreciates the merits of James’s creation.
“I love that these suburban housewives are okay reading porn in public,” he said, chuckling.
The production’s publicity is quick to print that “50 Shades!” is “not associated with, endorsed or authorized by E.L. James or Vintage Books.” Just as “Saturday Night Live” can poke fun at an established property, Samuels said that there has been no trouble theatrically satirizing James’s literary blockbuster, bound to become a Hollywood movie on Valentine’s Day Weekend 2015.
“50 Shades! The Musical” runs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays, and at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays through March 30 at Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Tickets start at $30. Free parking at Culver City Hall, behind the theatre. Call (213) 972-4488 or visit 50shadesmusical.com.