Note from Jenny: When my tweep @katiedidwhat tweeted about seeing Spank! The 50 Shades Parody, of course I had to ask her to do a review! So, here is her experience at what sounds like one of the most brilliant musical send ups since that Harry Potter one on YouTube. So, Happy Valentine’s Day, dear reader, because now you know this awesome thing exists:
I would’ve assumed that Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody, was a parody for the mainstream fans; not necessarily entertainment I would seek out. But when a grad school friend of my husband’s called him up and said, “Hey, I’m in town! Let’s hang out, do you want tickets to the show I’m touring with?” of course we say yes. We both work in theatre and any opportunity to see any show for free is a plus; even if it’s terrible, you’re not upset thinking you could’ve gone to see a couple Oscar nominees for the same price. Silver Linings Playbook notwithstanding, if Spank! comes to your neck of the woods, check it out. (Big shout out to Jesse and the rest of the cast and crew, if they’re reading, thanks again!) It’s an experience worth having.
We ran into an acquaintance in the lobby, a woman who bartends for our theatre, who says to my husband, “Are you planning on enjoying being one of the few men in the audience?” Once we’re seated, I notice she wasn’t just saying that. The audience is mostly groups of women in their 40s with a few representative husbands and boyfriends roped in as designated drivers. There are lots of sweater wraps, hooker boots and big hair.
By comparison, I’m, well, Tuesday I’ll be 29. In most respects, I’m a pretty vanilla sort of person. I wonder suddenly about the women around me- are they really that into this book? Does the woman in front of me playing Farmville on her phone want to be tied up and spanked by a petulant millionaire? Flipping open the playbill, I note that the lead actor (it’s a three person cast), is an accomplished burlesque performer. Oh. What are we seeing here tonight, anyway?
That’s the point at which I overhear the woman behind me say this: “I read the first one, and then I tried to read the second one, but then I thought, ‘Where’s the reality?’ And there was none. Nothing in this is real. It’s just as shocking and raunchy as they could make it. So I’m here to see them make fun of it.” At least I’m not alone in my expectations.
is a parody, so instead of Ana and Christian, we have Tasha Woode (Alice Moran), Hugh Hanson (Patrick Whalen) and, also, E.B. Janet (Anne Marie Scheffler). The three performers are among the show’s seven writers, with experience in improvisational theatre, burlesque and television, among other things. It’s a talented group (check their website http://spankshow.com/
), I’m further reassured.
First, we meet our intrepid aspiring author, E.B. Janet. Her husband and kids are away for the weekend, so she has two days and a bottle of wine to write the best selling sex-fantasy novel of all time. Our heroine, Tasha Woode, is brought to life perfect and pretty and naive and isn’t that just terrible? Of course, she needs a sexy hero, someone who’s rich and dark, and owns a major corporation and has a tragic backstory based on something terrible that happened to him in his youth and, “Wait!” says Tasha, “Isn’t this Batman?” “You don’t know about Batman, you haven’t read any literature written after 1891!”
The show is a musical, with parody versions of at least six or seven different songs. If your musical theatre is up to snuff, Tasha sings a parody of I Know Things Now from Into the Woods that will make you weep with joy with its accuracy. Hugh introduces the Red Room of Pain with a parody of Pure Imagination, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Yes. You read that right. He puts on the purple coat and hat and everything. The phrase “spreader bar” is used to comedic effect and in perfect rhythm and tempo.
I mentioned that one of the actor/writers was a burlesque dancer. That would be The Dark Prince himself, Patrick Whalen, who plays Hugh, and he has several opportunities to show off his skills. There’s no full nudity, but there’s a Batman dance that gets pretty close. Yes, there’s a tie dance. Due to the juxtaposition of the re-creation of “sexy” scenes in the book with the slightly comedic overtones of the show, there’s some occasional wild screaming in odd places, but most of it was in the second act, so almost certainly cocktails number 3 or 4 had been consumed by some of the audience by that point. There’s an opportunity to get a photograph with Whalen after the show that I turned down, but for the ladies who came for the eye candy, they have much to approve of and post on Facebook later.
While the show makes comedic reference to “down there,” and “crap,” it’s totally OK with using the holy trinity of f-bombs: fuck, fisting and finger banging. We had the ultimate good fortune of attending a performance with ASL interpretation. If you ever have the chance to see any kind of comedy, especially a sex-comedy, with signers, DO IT. It must’ve been a new experience for the cast, because at one point in the second act, they went totally off script to point out that now we all knew the signs for fisting and finger banging, wasn’t that just great? Our signers were blushing good sports.
The presence of E.B. Janet actually answers some of the questions I had at the beginning of the night: why are middle aged women so into Fifty Shades? When Tasha loses her virginity, and comes staggering bow-legged onto stage at the beginning of the second act after having had an amazing 5 orgasms, she asks E.B., “Do you even remember losing your virginity?” E.B. has a flashback of her with her boyfriend, high in the backseat of a car while Dark Side of the Moon plays (I think it was Floyd; them or Zepplin, sorry, I’m terrible at classic rock) and recalls being really disappointed by the whole thing. E.B. points out, “I wanted you to have a good time!” There’s another scene after meeting Hugh’s rich, distant family where Tasha says, “I wanted to find out from them why he’s rich and distant, why do they have to be rich and distant?” and E.B. recounts the story of the disastrous first time she met her future in-laws finishing with, “Which would you rather have?!” And I sort of got it. This is a fantasy you pull out for an hour after the kids go to bed, where you don’t have to be in control of anything and all your problems are someone else’s fault but you have crazy sex anyway. The trouble is with thinking that it’s a healthy 24-7 lifestyle.
Not to say that Spank! doesn’t point out the other side of the coin, too. It’s made very clear that no one should have to sign a nondisclosure in a normal relationship and that this isn’t a healthy way to be and that Tasha should stop Mary Sueing around and behave like a real woman. Sometimes parody hits a point where the audience says, “OK, too far,” but that didn’t happen here. When Hugh revealed he was a sparkly vampire and asked Tasha to hop on his back, they were there all the way, agreeing when E.B. decided that a sparkly vampire refusing to have sex with Tasha wasn’t the kind of romance she wanted, she needed to write a sex book! The fans and the snarkers were enjoying the show in the same places- having seen how dividing the territory of the book can be, this is a pretty amazing feat.
I asked my husband on the way home if he had fun. “Yeah, I laughed.” High praise. He knows nothing about the series, next to nothing about Twilight, and he never felt that he didn’t know what was going on or why a joke was funny. I wondered if possibly the production team were fans of Jenny’s re-caps, because a lot of the jokes were familiar, though never identical, but I think it’s more likely the book is just that full of low hanging fruit, you only have to harvest for greatest joke potential.
The only thing I would say against the experience is that I should’ve gone to pee before it started. The irony of this is that the show was held in a theatre originally built by the city’s Women’s Club. There are six bathrooms in the building. When I commented that they “…might at least’ve opened the men’s rooms too!” my husband pointed out that the single men’s room had three urinals and one stall. Those ladies who had the place built back in the 20s thought this through. Seriously, that’s the worst thing I can say about the experience; nothing to do with the show, everything to do with bladder control. Check their website, find out when it’s performing near you and if you go see it, you won’t be disappointed. Even if you don’t get to learn the sign for fisting.