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How do you parody a parody? 'Cuff Me' takes the kinky 'Fifty Shades' craze over the top

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Shuffle under some Star of David stained glass windows and a rack of prayer shawls in a corner of the off-Broadway Actors Temple Theatre for this high-volume command at the start of its latest show:

"Strap in! Strap on! And if it vibrates, put it between your legs!"

There may not be enough exclamation points — or groans, depending on your fan status — for "Cuff Me: The Fifty Shades of Grey (Unauthorized) Musical Parody," one of a few stage spoofs to take on the naughty books in song, and the first to hit New York.

The rough-sex romp, featuring a half-wit Anastasia Steele and a flyswatter-lovin' Christian Grey (yes, I said flyswatter) is aimed squarely at the Zumba set. There's actual Zumba in it, along with plenty of digs about the bad writing and bizarre plot twists of "Fifty" writer E L James.

Yet on the first night of previews last week, "Cuff Me" managed to fill the 170-seat theatre that doubles as a synagogue with a long history of tending to the spiritual needs of famous, funny Jews from Henny Youngman to the Three Stooges.

Producer Tim Flaherty has a history of keeping an eye out for his higher power, having already put on the one-nun comedy "Late Nite Catechism" in the basement of a Lutheran church. "For me, it's almost like circling back. I'm always looking for god's help," he said.

The show, written by three improv dudes from Bible Belt Virginia, relies heavily on parody lyrics set to predictable pop songs with "Fifty"-esque titles: Rihanna's "S&M," Madonna's "Like a Virgin," Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," Britney Spears' "... One More Time," the Divinyls' "I Touch Myself."

Oh, and there's a bit of "If I Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof," sung by one Willy Blowman, a swish lawyer in a flashy yellow suit. He has the hots for Christian as he goes over the dominant/submissive sex contract the billionaire presents to this developmentally challenged Ana.

Bejeweled flyswatter? Fay lawyer? Doing certain unmentionable things with mayonnaise? A pink flamingo lawn ornament among Grey's sex toys? "Fifty" purists beware, for this mommy porn take on your favourite kinky love story makes plenty of filthy fun at the craze you whipped up.

The show, with a four-person cast, goes like this: Two middle-aged ladies are in a nail salon. One has never heard of "Fifty Shades" so the other fills her in as the two-male, two-female crew takes on key scenes from the first book, flipping on bad wigs, acting out Ana's excitable inner goddess and sex-prancing to songs with unprintable words.

Ana stumbles into Grey's office, and there's a visit to Grey's red room of pain (on opening night of previews the lights were broken, so it was more of a purple).

Asked about the act of cashing in on the "Fifty" phenom, Flaherty and writers Brad McMurran, Jeremiah Albers and Sean Devereux said hells, yeah. The erotic trilogy continues to sell, topping 70 million copies worldwide, and a movie yet to announce a cast is planned.

McMurran and Devereux are with The Pushers, an improv and sketch group from the Norfolk, Va., area. Albers, a former Pusher, was recruited for "Cuff Me" duty after Flaherty thought it up.

"You're trying to basically take advantage of what the market place is interested in. So, I mean, is that cashing in? We can do lots of shows that no one wants to come see, but I don't see the point in that," Flaherty deadpanned. "It's not exactly like we're buying mansions out in the Hamptons."

McMurran, on the bawdier side, said of his brush with "Fifty:" ''It was just an absolute ball for us to write it. We thought it was just a riot. And then when we found that there may be money behind it, it became really cool."

Albers had Leslie Nielsen in mind after reading the books.

"One of the things that we kept going back to as we were writing was the movie 'Airplane' and how because Christian Grey is such a cold, kind of patrician character, that it was more that kind of thing, you know, 'I'm serious, don't call me Shirley,' where he's saying the most ridiculous things but in the most serious way, like he's playing Chekhov."

"Cuff Me" is the hornball love child of four men, but its director and musical director are women. That's a whole lotta testosterone, noted the former, Sonya Carter. She found herself in the absurd position of reining in the raunch for cast members Laurie Elizabeth Gardner, Matthew Brian Bagley, Tina Jensen, Alex Gonzalez and their numerous, roving roles.

"I think we have to remember that it was three guys, and sometimes even Tim would be 'That's OK,' and I'd be, like, 'That's not OK. I'm sorry,'" Carter said, noting a specific reference to fingers in nether regions.

So where's the line when you're parodying a bondage parody of "Twilight" vampire love, as James did with "Fifty Shades"?

"You take this material and if you present it the wrong way it comes across creepy. So to avoid creepy you go really, really over the top," Flaherty said.

Check.

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Online: http://actorstempletheatre.com

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Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie

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