But the series—known as “mommy porn” by some—catapulted to fame thanks to the power of word-of-mouth and the thrill of the transgressive. For many readers, the tale of the sadomasochistic relationship between young Anastasia Steele and sexy millionaire Christian Grey was their first foray into smutty literature.
To date, the Fifty Shades series has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide, setting the record for the fastest-selling paperback of all time. (Yes, outpacing even Harry Potter—sex sells.) As is to be expected for any best-selling cultural phenomenon, there’s already a Fifty Shades of Grey movie in the works.
And now, thanks to efforts by members of Chicago-based improv company Baby Wants Candy, there’s even a musical based on the trilogy. 50 Shades! The Musical made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, continued on to previews in Chicago and New York—and is now playing in Raleigh as the first stop on its national tour.
The show spoofs the erotic series, opening with a suburban ladies book club selecting 50 Shades of Grey as their newest literary pick. The book comes to life for these horny housewives as a sweaty, potbellied Christian Grey woos an airheaded Ana Steele. Along the way, the musical features original songs such as “There’s a Hole Inside of Me” and “I Don’t Make Love, I F#*!”
Al Samuels, who is a writer, director and producer of the show, says that, like the smash-hit The Book of Mormon, the musical simultaneously lampoons and celebrates its source material.
“The challenge and the fun of it is that you don’t only want to make fun—you want to kind of celebrate the ridiculous parts of it,” Samuels says. “I think that’s why our show works.”
So far, the musical has attracted a wide range of types, Samuels says.
“We did a show in New Jersey, so there’s all these girls that look like they just rolled off the Jersey Shore. And then there’s a group of like 50- or 60-year-old ladies, and you know they’ve read the book and made their daughters or their sons completely uncomfortable by being like, ‘Oh my god, I’m reading this book and it’s about sex!’”
The show brings out a large number of men, as well, says Samuels.
“For guys who have girlfriends or wives who are reading it, there’s a part of them that’s like, ‘Oh my god, this is so ridiculous that my wife is reading this book,’ and there’s a part of them that’s like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so happy that my girlfriend is reading this book. Like, I’ve been begging her to stop getting down on me about my porn collection!’”
And don’t think you need to have read the trilogy to appreciate the musical.
“We wanted to make it so that if you read the books, there’s a ton of little Easter eggs in the show,” Samuels says. “But also, if you haven’t read the book … you’ll still be able to get a kick out of the absurdity.”
“You have to have a story, you have to have good music. That way, when girls bring their husbands or boyfriends, it’s still going to be a funny show and they’ll enjoy it, too.”
50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL runs at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts through April 6. (April 3 at 7:30 p.m. and April 4-6 at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.) Tickets are $39.10-57.30.