Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Interview: The Wild World of 50 Shades! The Musical

It’s coming. Yes, it’s really coming. 50 Shades! The Musical is about to open in Los Angeles on February 25th and audiences have never been crazier over a show than this one. Based on the wildly popular book, 50 Shades of Grey, the musical parody takes the audience into the world of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele through the eyes of a group of book club ladies who read the book together. The production is a collaboration between a team of comedy writers that includes Al Samuels, Emily Dorezas, Amanda Blake Davis, Jody Shelton, Ashley Ward and Dan Wessels, and it was written in an unconventional manner. Before it arrives, I had a chance to talk to writer, Emily Dorezas, who is also a producer and the show’s touring director, and Tiffany Dissette, who plays Pam, about how the musical got started and what we can expect to see.

Emily Dorezas: 50 Shades from A Writer’s Perspective

What inspired you to write a parody of the book 50 Shades of Grey?

I think it was a couple of things. All of the writers come from a comedy background and whenever there’s a phenomenon, be it political or cultural, we know it’s ripe for comedy. Some of us hadn’t even read the book yet but there was such a frenzy around it that we realized there could be something to have fun with there. I think the juxtaposition of the material, which was provocative, and who was reading the material - conservative housewives - seemed to be something we wanted to make fun of.

Who came up with the idea to do a parody?

E: I’m also one of the producers, along with Marshall Cordell and Al Samuels, and one day Marshall said he had seen a news story about hardware stores running out of rope after the book came out. He’s this crazy entrepreneur and he was thinking maybe he should invest in a rope factory in China, but in the meantime, he said we should think about making fun of this. So even though Marshall isn’t one of the writers, it was definitely his idea. And then I think it was Al who said, let’s do a musical!

Did you all get together in a room to write, comedy sketch style, or did you work individually and then bring ideas in?

E: It was very much a complete collaboration because we had a very short amount of time to write it and put it up. Initially, the idea came in July 2012 and then, while we were in Scotland for something else, we got a date for the show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. That was three weeks after the idea came to life. We went from starting in a room together, to working on Google docs from an apartment in Scotland while some of the writers were writing in L.A. It was crazy. So in terms of writing style, it was much more like a TV show - all hands in - than it was a typical musical that takes longer to develop and workshop before it comes to life. Usually a musical takes a couple years with fewer writers. This took a team and we got it up fast.

How have audiences responded? Was there anything that surprised you?

E: The male reaction was the biggest surprise for me. As the tour went on, we would get these private messages via Facebook or our emails with guys thanking us because they had no idea what their wives and girlfriends were reading before they came to the show. They knew it was erotic but I think they thought the show would be ‘just a chick flick on stage’ and I’m quoting a guy on that. I think that is how most guys really come to the show. They’re kind of dragged there. One guy said the party hasn’t stopped since we got home last week, so I think it starts the conversation. These guys aren’t going to necessarily read the book but they’ll come and they’ll laugh together at a show and then realize… you’re into that? Okay, I had no idea.  

What should the audience expect to see? 

E: It’s a musical parody and it is definitely in the style of a Book of Mormon treatment of 50 Shades of Grey. We’re all deep in that world of Family Guy musicals and South Park musicals and SNL…that style of comedy, so it’s really fast and in your face. It’s not your typical musical comedy. This is funny first, and we have some great songs too. It’s not for kids but there’s no nudity. There’s a lot of suggestive body placement and there’s a ton of innuendo, and obviously there are a lot of terms that we did not shy away from that are in the book. But it’s a good laugh. You might not want to watch it with your parents...but your parents will have a great time at it. 

How did you find the way to key into the story?

E: We wanted to make light of all of our friends and family that have read 50 Shades of Grey and so we felt the best way to do that was the book club. The culture of book clubs is really everybody hanging out and having a couple drinks and maybe you talk about the book and maybe you don’t. We wanted to have that kind of feel open the show and we also use the book club to frame it. If an audience member hasn’t read the book, like a husband or a boyfriend, we wanted something to guide them through.

Have you had book clubs and groups come to see the show?

E: Oh, yeah. We get a lot of large groups and group sales folks but we also get groups of 6 or 8, about the number you can fit in a minivan. They’re book clubs or girlfriends that maybe wouldn’t necessarily go to a theatre show but this is their night out.

Do you have a favorite moment that didn’t get left in the show?

E: We had a song that used to close the show called “B*tthole in Control” that isn’t in the show any longer. We had already hit those marks and we felt like it wasn’t the right way to end the show. It just wasn’t the right tone, but we all liked the song. So even though it doesn’t exist in the show anymore, it is on the digital version of the album because we all loved it so much. 

How many productions do you have out right now?

E: The New York company opens about the same time we come to LA. It’s at the Electra Theatre in Times Square and in Los Angeles we’re at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. We also have shows in Paris and Holland, we’re about to open in Germany, and we’re also with Broadway Asia.

How does that feel?

E: Awesome! (she laughs) It’s the best. We have a great management partner, Act Five, and we could not be happier about those licenses because, while we have control over it, we give them a lot of flexibility to discover new things with the show; things that maybe we hadn’t thought of or maybe they’ve heightened different elements, so it’s really fun. I saw the Paris show and there was much more nudity than I ever dreamed of but that’s fine. 

Have you had to deal with any censorship issues in any of your tour cities?

E: Not yet. People know that this is a pretty racy book. They know what they’re getting into. We’ve played the Bible belt and it’s just as crazy as anyplace else in terms of the audience reaction. They’re totally in it. If we do get a walkout or two it’s usually because people thought they were coming to a musical that was an exact representation of the book. I have found that there are certain folks who are so passionate about this book that they don’t want to laugh about it. It awakens them, for whatever reason, and I respect that. I just always like to be clear. It is a parody. It isn’t going to be an exact replica of the book you read.

Is there audience interaction in the show?

E: Not really. There are a few times the actors talk to the audience but there’s no audience reaction back. We don’t take anyone up on stage.

Have you had anything wild happen with audience members? 

E: We’ve had some people grab at Christian and he gets underwear and other things thrown at him. I can’t remember where we were, but it was definitely what I would consider a pretty conservative area of the south. I was in the ladies room and I came out and realized that the men’s room also had ladies in it. I peeked in and there were some super straight-laced soccer moms that were loading up their lipstick vibrators that they just got. It was like the craziest concert but it was a musical theatre show. It was insane. They were all drunk, probably 50 of them in there, 4 of them using a urinal, 2 of them trying to figure out their lipstick vibrator and I was just thinking…you guys have to all go to church and see each other after this. You live in this town together.

Sounds like they had a great time! Do you have any idea what you'd like to do next after this show?

E: I’m based in LA and I did comedy in Chicago and toured colleges. I come from a stand-up background and when I moved to LA I never thought I was going to be doing a live musical tour. When I moved to LA I was definitely on a TV trajectory with the goal of being a show runner one day, so I’m going to be coming off the tour soon and I’m going to pick up where I left off with that.

Tiffany Dissette: 50 Shades from An Actor’s Perspective

Tiffany, what a crazy show to be part of. Are you having fun playing Pam in the show?

Tiffany: Yes! It’s such a blast of a show. Pam is the one in the book club who introduces 50 Shades of Grey to the other two ladies and the book club helps narrate the story. If you haven’t read it, you’re following the story along with the book club ladies. They’re good liaisons for the audience because all three of them are caricatures of typical housewives that a lot of audience members can relate to.

Who are the other two ladies?

T: There’s Carol, who is the one who doesn’t really get it and she’s a little bit reserved, a little appalled by everything that’s happening. Bev is totally into it and she’s the one who’s a little drunker on the side. And then there’s Pam, who I’d say is the most sexually charged, sexually aware one of the housewives. She’s the one urging the other ladies to go on this adventure with her and really experience the story; she really opens up our eyes to this whole other world that exists that a lot of people don’t know about. It definitely has some raunchy elements to it but it’s a parody so it’s all in fun. 

Has anything surprised you about the audiences that have come to see the show?

T: It’s interesting because it’s almost like the women who come to see the show are cult followers. You’ve heard of the Harry Potter fans or the Twilight fans…A lot of the people who come see the show are huge fans of the book. Many of the women will come in groups. It’s ladies night out and they’ll come dressed in masks with gray ties and riding crops. It can get wild. 

Have you had any unusual experiences either onstage or after the show?

T: We’ve had ladies in the front row tapping the stage with their riding crops or throwing panties at Christian. It’s hilarious. We also adapt certain parts of the show to each city we’re in and some of the audiences go crazy for that.

Why do you think the 50 Shades trilogy has become such a phenomenon?

T: There have been erotic novels in the past but I think it’s the way it’s written. It’s very nonchalant. I think it started out as this naughty little secret and a woman would say to her girlfriend, have you read this book? Have you experienced this 50 Shades? And then it became more and more popular. Then book clubs started to read it and then it just took over and became this phenomenon - this story of an innocent sweet girl being completely taken over by this world. There are a lot of people that walk into the theater being very reserved and walk out feeling completely comfortable talking about some of the subject matter. It’s a good conversation starter!

How would you describe the style of the music?

T: It’s all original music, mostly contemporary musical theatre, accompanied by a 3-piece band. We do a couple of parodies of some well-known musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables so people who are knowledgeable in musical theatre will get those references as well.

Performances of
50 Shades! The Musical begin February 25 (opening night Feb. 26) at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 W. Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA. Click Here for tickets or call (213) 972-4488. 

Performance Schedule:
Tues. Wed., Thurs. & Fri. 8:00pm,
Sat. 5pm & 9PM, Sun. 1pm & 6:30pm

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