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Bondage, discipline & sado-musicalism

Touring stage production goes for hilarity along with the horny in Fifty Shades of Grey send-up

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Jazz hands meet handcuffs in touring play 50 Shades! The Musical.

MICHAEL BROSILOW PHOTO Enlarge Image

Jazz hands meet handcuffs in touring play 50 Shades! The Musical.

A news report last summer about a rope shortage at hardware stores being blamed on aroused readers of the kinky bestselling book Fifty Shades of Grey grabbed the attention of American businessman Marshall Cordell.

His entrepreneurial instincts told him there was money to be made, perhaps in opening a rope factory in China, given that British writer E L James' Fifty Shades trilogy, which visits the world of bondage, discipline and sado-masochism, sold more than 70 million copies in its the first eight months in the United States.

Cordell's background in theatre then prompted him to call collaborators Albert Samuels and Emily Dorezas to figure out how to exploit the publishing phenomenon and quickly settled on making fun of it in a scripted musical.

Cordell and the two members of the Chicago-based improvised musical-comedy ensemble Baby Wants Candy decided to unveil their new script at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the following month. Just like the literary sex fantasy, 50 Shades! The Musical got people hot and bothered in the Scottish capital.

"It sold a ton of tickets there," says Dorezas, the co-producer and co-writer of 50 Shades!, which will kick off its first Canadian tour at the Centennial Concert Hall Sept. 5-7.

"People were actually asking our street team for flyers. That never happens at a fringe that people are begging you for flyers. We kind of knew than that something good could happen."

The 30-year-old Los Angeles resident, calling from Edinburgh, says when she read the James books, she was taken aback that what had been dubbed "mommy porn" could be found on the coffee tables of mothers and grandmas all over the world. Fifty Shades tells the story of the unconventional romance between virginal college student Anastasia Steele and dashing tycoon Christian Grey, with his predilection for domination and bondage.

"It's not Peyton Place; it's really dirty," she says. "It's part of the culture we don't talk too much about -- the whole BDSM lifestyle. The world seems to be going there right now."

That's why she was mildly amused by the furor surrounding Miley Cyrus's suggestive gyrations in a nude bikini at MTV's Video Music Awards Aug. 25. Some of those publicly clucking at Cyrus were behind-closed-doors readers of James's unabashedly explicit sex-and-submission narrative.

Women are no less interested in pornography, although most is targeted at men, Dorezas says.

"I just don't think there is a lot of pornography that can capture women's attention," she says. "I think they need more buildup, foreplay. I think they need 110 pages to get excited about the pornography."

Dorezas has her own theory about why Fifty Shades of Grey has hit the spot with female readers. It has to do with how women are now wearing the pants in a lot of households and bearing much of the financial and family responsibilities. The uber-controlling Christian Grey makes all the decisions and represents a kind of escape for women who are always taking care of everyone else.

"I'm not trying to be anti-feminist -- it's just something about this character and how hard women are working right now," she says. "It's this weird opposites-attract scenario."

The spine of the Edinburgh show remains but much of 50 Shades has been refined during a Chicago run last fall and a three-performance stop in New York City in January, ahead of last April's launch of the North American tour.

50 Shades is loaded with sketch comedy, dance numbers and 11 original tunes with titles such as There's a Hole Inside of Me, I Don't Make Love, I F*#@ and I Get Nasty. The premise of the parody is that a women's book club has decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey, opening up a discussion about its impact on their libidos.

Author James has not seen 50 Shades! The Musical, which can only tour North America where parody laws are much looser than in Britain. The box-office potential from the James trilogy is such that 50 Shades has competition on the road -- Cuff Me: The 50 Shades of Grey Unauthorized Musical Parody as well as Spank! The 50 Shades Parody.

Then there is the much-anticipated feature film being released by Universal Pictures in 2014. Casting of the leads has not being announced but possible Anastasias include Dakota Johnson, Kristen Stewart and Emma Roberts, while the list of potential Christians is topped by Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam, Magic Mike's Matt Bomer and Canuck Ryan Gosling. Dorezas' choices for the duo would be Saturday Night Live comic Aidy Bryant and Jack Black.

"It would be so funny with them," says the Maryland-born comedian.

Dorezas is not sure how long her musical's legs are. The producers are trying to be realistic about the life expectancy of a lampoon of a trend. She would guess it has an audience for another year or two.

"The audience for this book is so massive and the movie will extend the interest," she says. "I also think because we are making light of the book that even when people are tired of it, they will still want to laugh about it."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 C7

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Updated on Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 9:08 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video

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