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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

"SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody" is coming to the Turner Hall Ballroom.

"SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody" treats your inner goddess to a night out


Does your inner goddess need a night out and a good laugh?

"SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody" runs March 6-10 at the Turner Hall Ballroom, 1034 N. 4th St. This light-hearted take on the titillating "Fifty Shades of Grey" series by E.L. James. The show, presented by Mills Entertainment, has been enjoying blockbuster runs all across the U.S. and Canada, grossing $2.5 million in ticket sales during its first 16 weeks. Two extra performances were added to the Milwaukee stint due to popular demand.

You could say there's a lot of great buzz about this show. Pun intended.

Written by a team of top sketch comedy writers and directed by comedy veteran Jim Millan, the show re-imagines Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele as Tasha and Hugh, the creation of author E.B. Janet, whose husband and kids are out of town for the weekend.

Since it's billed across the country as the ultimate girls' night out, Turner Hall Ballroom is offering a cocktail hour prior to performance time, plus an after-show photo op with the actor who plays Hugh.

OnMilwaukee.com caught up with writer Colin Munch to discuss the process of satirizing the risque reads – and why Christian Grey is, for all intents and purposes, just a really scary version of Batman.

OnMilwaukee.com: This show – like the book series – is making tons of money all over the country since it opened last fall.

CM: We sold out in (opening city) Springfield, Mass. essentially instantly. One of the theaters, I'm not sure exactly which one, they asked us for a second run before our first run had even finished. Obviously, the property is very hot and a lot of people are very interested in seeing it, but I think the show stands on its own as well.

OMC: Why do you think people are so anxious to see these books parodied?

CM: I think it's just a good time. It is very funny and we've worked really hard to keep it funny and accessible, but it's just a fun night out. There's a lot of music, there's a lot of dancing, not an excessive amount of audience participation but just enough to keep people engaged. We try to tell a little love story in it as well.

When I was reading the book it was really important to me that we never make fun of the people who love the material. I think that the core of the story is a love story. So it was important that we keep that spirit intact despite all the holes we poke in the fiction and the reality and I think people really like that, too. Despite how much they love it (the book series), everyone that I've spoken to has misgivings about it despite how much they like it, and they like seeing those misgivings kind of blown up for comedic effect on stage.

OMC: Yeah, there are people who really love these books, and there are people who really love to hate these books. Who is this show better for?

CM: I really think it's for everybody. I'm saying this as a 27-year-old guy who, you know, had a hand in creating it. Like I said I think people who really love the books will enjoy seeing the characters that they like on stage, will enjoy seeing the situations that arise in the book through a comedic lens. And also the people who hated it or have problems with it will really like seeing the satire that we spin on it.

We take a certain situations - the fact that this 27-year-old billionaire falls in love with a 22-year-old virgin – we take that absurdity and we really blow it up. One of the sketches that I wrote is about how, a sequence in the book where he flies her in his helicopter from Vancouver to Seattle where his office is, and I basically took that helicopter sequence and added, like jetpacks and hovercrafts and added all these ridiculous, ridiculous things that he owns because he's, you know, he's basically Batman. He's this dark, mysterious billionaire. Scary Batman.

OMC: The books have gotten a lot of flak for being poorly-written. Did you find it easy to parody them?

CM: I'm not gonna pretend that it wasn't. (laughs) Yeah. I mean, we, like I said, we never wanted to make fun of it. But it's easy to make fun of a romance novel period, right? So there's a suspension of disbelief that's involved in reading these books and that's – comedians traffic in that suspension of disbelief. One of the passages that I wrote is the sequence where she sneaks into his bathroom and it's this incredibly florid, detailed romance-novel-style passage; the narrator of the story, who is (writer and actress) Anne Marie Scheffler's character who represents the writer herself, is just going overboard with all of this insane metaphor and flowery imagery, and it was just a blast to write, it was so much fun to write that stuff.

OMC: How did it become a musical?

CM: We just kind of came to rehearsal one day and all three of us had written songs, just kind of in our downtime. Anne Marie had written a song off the top, John had written an amazing new set of lyrics to the song "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias which is I think my favorite part of the show. Patrick (Whalen, a writer who also played the original Hugh) is so musically gifted as well and such a good dancer, it just kind of was a natural fit. And the other two Hughs that we've hired, they're both very musical guys, so it's just sort of a natural fit. And people like silly songs. They're fun to write and they're fun to hear.

OMC: What can the audience expect from evening with Tasha and Hugh?

CM: We really bill this show as a fun girls' night out. Most of the theaters, you can come early and get pre-show cocktails and hang out and mix with other fans and people who love the book – which is a great way to go into any show, you're already immediately in friendly company because you're surrounded by all of these people who have the same reference level that you do. The show starts off with this big, like rock concert-style strip show opening and right off the bat we set the tone that this is gonna be a really high-octane, fun and sexy show. And then after the show you can stick around and get your picture taken with Hugh, which has been a really popular option. (laughs)

I just think that, I wouldn't be scared of seeing this show if you're not a fan. It's a great night out for fans of the book but it's also just a really solid, fun night of theater ... I think it's a very safe place, is what I'll say.

For more information on "SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody" visit pabsttheater.org.


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