50 Shades! The Musical
Thru Dec 22
Zilkha Hall, The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby St

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my life, and damn my editor for subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, or something else similarly painless, like shopping at the Galleria at Christmas. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired boy staring back at me and give up. Fifty Shades! The Musical must be reviewed, and by someone as far from the target audience as E. L. James is from Thomas Hardy. I put my wayward hair in a ponytail and try to look semi-presentable.

I arrive at the Hobby Center on a  warm December evening—even though I have final exams to study for, which I somehow feel the need to reiterate even though I just told you that in the last paragraph—and try to blend into the crowd. This would seem to require donning a Christmas sweater, frosting the tips of my hair, and announcing to complete strangers that “I read the whole thing in two weeks”—all measures I am constitutionally unable to take. But I love a Climax cocktail in a souvenir cup as much as the next man, and am happy to endure the line at the bar, and the bartender, who shakes his head in disgust at me until I pull out my reviewer’s pad and reveal that I am here on official business.

Inside Zilkha Hall, the atmosphere is raucous. There are giggles of excitement in every corner. Dozens of packs of girls-night-out types are squeezing together for selfies. My mood brightens with the thought that Oprah is about to breeze down the aisle and give us all cars. Instead, however, there is an announcement over the PA system that the show will begin after we have been advised of “some hard limits”—the crowd laughs—including the need to turn off our cellphones “and other vibrating devices”—tremendous laugh—during the course of a show that will run for “sixtynine… minutes.” The audience just exchanges winks at that one.

There are very few things we can’t endure for 69 minutes, and Fifty Shades! turns out to be a good deal more than endurable, thanks to TUTS Underground’s rather clever casting in the role of Christian Grey. The joke is too good to spoil—suffice it to say that the fury that greeted Christian’s first entrance was of a piece with the outrage provoked by Charlie Hunnam ‘s casting in the film version, with the notable difference that the TUTS audience wanted someone’s blood to spill. “That’s not him!” shouted an angry woman to our right. “No. Hell no,” spewed another, standing up and screaming at the stage, her voice that strange mixture of anger and sadness normally reserved for Maury guests who’ve just found out that Jerome is NOT the father of their baby.

Otherwise, the musical is a rather lazy parody, its songs forgettable, and its plot almost nonexistent, none of which mattered to the Zilkha crowd, for whom the chance to revel publicly in this material, as opposed to, say, at night and to the accompaniment of their husbands’ snoring, is worth the price of admission alone. For our part, we found Fifty Shades! The Musical to be mildly amusing and ribald in the broadest sense, which is to say exactly the sort of musical that the book deserves.

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