Bradenton gets its choice of porn parodies

Two send-ups of "Fifty Shades of Grey" open in nearby theaters this week

April 21, 2013 

I don't get it. I guess I'm not supposed to.

I started hearing about a book called "Fifty Shades of Grey" a couple of years ago, mostly in jokes by late-night TV show hosts. I gathered it was a popular book, but I didn't know or care anything about it.

Then I saw a sign on an "adult" store that said "Get your '50 Shades of Grey' items here."

Gradually I figured out that "Fifty Shades" was pornography for women, and it was apparently poorly written.

Comedians make jokes about the difference between men and women -- men like the Three Stooges and women don't, women will ask for directions and men won't, that kind of stuff. But maybe the real difference is that men watch porn and women read porn.

And something men never, ever do with their porn is make up musical parodies of it that they tour around the country in performing arts halls.

But that's what has happened with "Fifty Shades." In fact, this week Bradenton is in the middle of dueling theatrical parodies of the erotic novel. There's one to our north and one to our south.

At Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, you've got "50 Shades: The Musical." The blurb on the hall's website calls it "the hilarious parody of the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' phenomenon."

At the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, there's "Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody." According to the Straz website, it's "the hilarious new musical ... that puts its own clever and comedic take on the risque record-setting book." Both websites have videos of enthusiastic audience members, virtually all

women, praising the show they've just seen.

So, if your match.com profile says you're into theater, mild masochism and low-brow comedy, you have a dilemma. Unless you want to see both, you'll have to choose.

The reviews for "Spank!" mostly say it's funny in an "SNL" kind of way. Men mostly say they didn't like it at all. Women say they liked it, but that they'd have liked it better if they had read the book. It has three actors, including at least one hunky male who does a striptease, and there's audience participation. It has toured all over the world.

As for "50 Shades of Grey: The Musical," it started at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and earlier this year opened Off-Broadway. It has songs with such titles as "There's a Hole Inside of Me" and a potbellied, hyper-sweaty Mr. Grey. Reviews have also been generally positive, but have talked more about how much the boisterous female audiences like it than any discussion of the show's objective merit.

Both, it's safe to say, have been garnered better reviews than the books they parody. (In "50 Shades: The Musical," one character says, "This is real life, not a book. If it were a book, it would be terrible.")

If I had to go to one, I'd probably opt for "50 Shades: The Musical" over "Spanked!" There's no audience participation -- a gimmick that almost always makes for a painful experience -- and as a rule it's wise to avoid shows that have an exclamation point in the title.

But I don't have to, so I probably won't go to either. I don't get the "Fifty Shades" phenomenon and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't get the "Fifty Shades" jokes.

"50 Shades: The musical has just one show, at 8 p.m. April 23 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $30-$40. 941-953-3368 or www.vanwezel.org.

"Spank!" is at 8 p.m. April 25 and 7:30 p.m. April 26-27 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Tickets are $25.50-35.50. 813-229-7827 or www.strazcenter.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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