How do you parody a book series that already contains the sentence “He’s my very own Christian Grey flavor Popsicle”? The minds behind the Off Broadway production 50 Shades! The Musical: The Original Parody apparently decided to make the mega-selling erotic trilogy by E L James about a young, virginal woman (Amber Petty) entering a kinky relationship with a sexy billionaire (Chris Grace) louder, tackier, and cruder. That's fine in theory, but the humor goes limp early on. Although there’s some fun, bawdy wordplay in songs like “There’s a Hole in Me,” the typical joke here relies on props, dry humping, or full-volume rather than R-rated wit. Mimed cunnilingus aside, 50 Shades! has all the edge of a theme-park show.
Petty plays the sweet Anastasia Steele with appropriate blowup-doll vacuity, but Grace is miscast in the pivotal role of Christian Grey heartthrob by niche audiences. Although the tubby actor puts forth a balls-out (almost literally) comedic performance, casting a not-typically-hot Christian feels more like a too-easy visual gag than a bold move. Satire is funnier when it’s still somewhat recognizable to people who loved (or hated) the original.
Unlike the source material, the laughs in 50 Shades! are mostly intentional, but they could come harder. You feel a little too much pain and not enough pleasure. C
(Tickets: www.50shadesthemusical.com or 866-811-4111)