The book “Fifty Shades of Grey” came out in 2011; the steamy film opened in theaters earlier this month. Between these releases was the musical parody. Catch it at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts from Feb. 24 to March 1. I caught up with Albert Samuels, writer and director of “50 Shades! The Musical Parody,” on his Chicago phone.
Don Mathis: How did you get into comedy?
Al Samuels: Chicago is big mecca for live comedy. That’s the home of Saturday Night Live, comedy clubs, and sits coms. I grew up going downtown to watch. I did a lot of performing, directing and writing. Before she died, my mom said to follow your dreams. And that’s what I’ve done. I was on the cast for “Sports Action Team” on NBC in 2007 and have had several small parts in a couple of movies. But what I really love is “Baby Wants Candy,” a comedy team where we improvise musicals.
DM: Why was the book such a popular success?
AS: It was at the right time and right place. Two people from opposite sides of the track meet and begin a relationship. She’s a 21 year old virgin, he’s an eccentric billionaire. People were ready for a naughty story with a simple theme. It’s the idea of romance; the woman wants to be swept off her feet, the guy wants to find love.
DM: Which came first, the parody or the movie?
AS: The parody began in Aug 2012 before the movie and it hit the right nerve. We started touring before they announced the movie. There are three parodies in production. I direct the Vegas show and it’s also running in New York Off-Broadway.
DM: Is your production an adaptation of the book?
AS: Not at all. The book is a big phenomenon, a naughty book about a guy and a woman in a naughty relationship. Ours is an unauthorized parody of the book. There are so many things in the movie that you’ll see in the show. It just worked out that way.
DM: Is it necessary to have read the book to enjoy the play?
AS: It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the movie or read book, you’ll enjoy the show. Our biggest fans are people who enjoyed the book. If you read the book, it’s great. If you haven’t read, it’s still great.
DM: Is the parody burlesque?
AS: I wouldn’t say it was burlesque. It’s a good old-fashioned musical – big songs, hot women – it’s like a South Park episode with original songs.
DM: How has the parody changed?
AS: It started as a one-act play, a simple story. We developed the story of the book club during improvisation. Audience interaction helped shape it. For example, we wanted to have a Disney-like princess character and we wanted a ‘want’ song like the Little Mermaid sings in “Part of Your World.” So the song, “Hole inside of Me” was developed and we fleshed it out. The parody encompasses the story line of book club and the story of virginal character. We climax both stories together (pun intended). It’s a well woven story.
DM: Who is your audience?
AS: We’ve received an overwhelming response with standing ovations everywhere. But audiences in the South are the best; they have the most fun. Women having a Girls Night Out enjoy the show but tons of guys find it super fun. It has a lot of heart yet very dirty.
DM: What is the friction in the story?
AS: At the core of it, no matter how strange a person may be, there’s somebody out there for them. The characters realize they can’t stay the way they are and still be together. So it may be “Man versus Himself” or “Man versus Man.” The lovable loser book club lady is trying to get involved in the book. Her husband leaves her, so she’s trying to get it done by herself – to become actualized.
DM: How did you choose the songs to go into the show?
AS: ‘Baby Wants Candy’ improvises musicals on the spot. The songs are not planned. We develop a sixth sense as to what a musical needs; what makes us laugh. There are a couple of love ballads in the show. I enjoy building the audience’s expectations and then offering something different. The parody has a nice variety of really popular tunes.
DM: What’s your favorite song?
AS: It changes. The musical director does a great job. I like the song spun off from Christian’s line, “I don’t make love.” The hook is about how Christian and Ana are just like any other couple … while he’s putting a leash on her.
“50 Shades! – The Musical Parody” runs at the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts daily from Feb 24 to March 1. It is not for minors. Visit www.tobincenter.org for showtimes and tickets.
*Featured/top image: New York cast of “50 Shades! The Musical Parody” includes Casey Rogers, Alec Varcas, Kaitlyn Frotton, Chloe Williamson and Ashley Ward. Photo by Matthew Murphy.