On the stiletto heels of "Fifty Shades of Grey," which dominated last summer's literary pop culture scene, comes "SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody."
Technically, it is not associated with or authorized by author E.L. James or Vintage Press, but considering James' kinky trilogy made a mint in the fan-fiction genre and spawned plenty of print parodies, it only seems fitting someone would whip out a play in the same vein.
"SPANK!" is so popular that two casts are crisscrossing the country, with no end in sight. One troupe is landing at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Friday (5/10). That show is nearly sold out, but it's also playing tonight in Fairfield and Saturday and Sunday in Dubuque.
- "SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody"
- 7:30 p.m. Friday (5/10)
- Paramount Theatre, Cedar Rapids
- Cost: $28 and $38 (nearly sold out), (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com
- Fairfield: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (5/9), Sondheim Center, 200 N. Main St.; $20 and $25, (641) 472-2787 or FairfieldACC.com
- Dubuque: 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday (5/11) and 2 p.m. Sunday (5/12), Mississippi Moon Bar, Diamond Jo Casino, 301 Bell St.; $29.75 to $39.75, (563) 690-4758 or Diamondjo.com
The books cranked up the heat on a 2012 summer already baking in record temperatures. The musical parody has been following suit since November, luring scads of middle-aged females and the men who submit to tagging along.
"You'd be surprised how many gentlemen get dragged to the show -- there's always a good number," lead actor Patrick Whalen says by phone from a tour stop in Bethlehem, Pa. "I see them enjoying themselves, as well -- at different parts than our female audience. I don't think I've seen any of our male patrons walk out disappointed.
"We tried to make sure show the show would be enjoyable not only to the people who have read the books, but to broader spectrum, as well."
He plays Hugh Hanson, based on the books' megamogul Christian Grey, who turns an innocent virgin into his S&M plaything, only to have her really lead him around by his gray silk tie. The play's Anastasia Steele homage follows the same path.
"Our character, Natasha Wood, goes on an excellent emotional journey throughout this," says Whalen, who helped write the musical. Like Steele, Wood becomes "more self-actualized as this show goes on," evolving into a woman in control.
Christian Grey fans will like what they see in Whalen's role, too.
"Hugh Hanson is, as we say in the show, 'perfect, going on godlike,' " Whalen says with a laugh. "He's impenetrable and impenetrably wealthy. ... Things that seem absolutely ridiculous to you and I are absolutely commonplace to someone of his stature. And of course, (he's) domineering."
In keeping with the whole steamy sex thing, Whalen, 27, a Halifax native now based in Toronto, brings a burlesque background to the show and spends plenty of time shirtless in the spotlight.
"I was cast for a particular reason I guess," he says, adding that he "works out constantly" while on the road. "I was cast in this show with my particular background, because what I love is combining sexy with funny. I love the comedy of sexuality and I don’t want to take any of this too seriously. The sexuality is meant to be enjoyed. Hugh Hanson probably finds that same parallel, but maybe with a little bit more of a steely look to my goofy chuckles."
Whalen hadn't really heard much about the books until diving into the writing project last August, but he did read them, and enjoyed them.
"What I liked about them is the permission that they give women to explore their sexuality on a broad spectrum," he says. "... It’s good for people to start talking about things like that instead of it being a shrouded in mystery."
The play employs a narrator to set up the show and get the audience involved.
"The whole show starts off almost like a rock concert," Whalen says. "We have a sexy dance number right off the top of the show, where we get the audience involved. The narrator introduces the show and gets everything started with a good line of jokes. Then we start off right in the office, and it kind of departs from the typical narrative of the books for a bit. We tried not to hammer on every single point, but more like commenting on the movement of the books, more than the actual plotlines themselves. But we do hit on all those major plot points."
He says it's more like sketch comedy than a traditional Broadway-type musical. It "runs the gamut" from "The Sound of Music” to Marilyn Manson, with dances from waltzing to grinding. The set is plain and simple, with lots of red backdrops and black curtains.
"Lighting design is really what we use to paint our picture," he says, along with lots of imagination, bound to evoke myriad audience reactions.
Reactions run the gamut, too, he says. "Anything from gasping in horror to toppling over to standing up and throwing their arms up in victory."
His mother and his fiancee both love the show, and he hopes all of the audiences walk out of the theaters "either in a state of hysterical laughter or shocked or straight-up turned on, because this show has it all."