By John Benson
If there was any doubt the risque novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” was ripe for parody, confirmation came last Mother’s Day with a hilarious “Saturday Night Live” skit.
For those who missed it, the faux commercial showed dads and husbands surprising mothers on their special day only to find them, well, occupied while reading the ubiquitous bestseller.
It’s this mindset that led director Jim Millan (“The Kids in the Hall,” “Larry King Standing Up,” and “Mythbusters Live”) to co-write the unauthorized “SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody,” which makes its Cleveland debut Thursday through Jan. 27 at the Hanna Theatre.
“It was August when I got together with the top comedy people I knew,” said Millan calling from Detroit. “We wrote it in the month of September, and it opened in October. The model was more like a comedy writing room for ‘The Show of Shows.’ It really snowballed because there’s a romantic comedy and sexy erotica. There are so many things to parody. We found that inventing our own version of the story gave us a lot of freedom, and we kept making each other laugh.”
Whether it’s a funny scene around hang gliders or in a fancy hotel bathroom, “SPANK!” transforms the sexy book into a musical romp that since its debut has been played for sold-out crowds. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance over the next year you’ll be hearing a lot about the production, which is not only about to go international with a tour to Australia but appears to be destined for a permanent Las Vegas company.
Overall, Millan describes “SPANK!” as a fractured fairytale of the book. Others describe it as equal parts Chippendales and “Second City.” Even though it’s a parody, the director stressed that the production doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“We don’t make fun of the book,” Millan said. “It’s a parody but it’s really a celebration about being free to choose a lifestyle or dare to try something. It’s a celebration of something that’s become a pop icon. Like when the lights go down and our male character enters, there is screaming like it’s a Justin Bieber concert. I never would have expected that. When I created the opening with a very big rock-god entrance for our lead male, I didn’t know that would elicit screams. But that’s what the audience brings to it, their excitement, because they’ve had a lot of fun with this.”
Finally, perhaps the elephant in the room regarding “SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody” is the spouses who invariably will be dragged to the show. However, Millan confirms unlike taking in a rom-com or spending three hours listening to opera, this evening comes with nearly guaranteed bedroom benefits.
“It works out really well for them, I guarantee you,” Millan laughed. “Absolutely, it’s great to be the date.”