British author E.L. James’ 2011 erotic romance novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” depicts the dating adventures of naive college woman Anastasia, who begins a relationship with wealthy, worldly entrepreneur Christian Grey.
It’s a serious relationship with serious extras — such as Grey’s ideas about dominance, submission and toys for the bedroom. He’s not kidding around.
Michael Mills and his associates are kidding around. The Scotia-raised theatrical producer and his team of actors have taken the steamy source material and created “SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody.” The comedy musical will be presented Sunday at The Egg in Albany.
Mills, a 1994 graduate of Scotia-Glenville High School who now heads Mills Entertainment in Saratoga Springs, has two “SPANK!” companies on tour. The shows already have played 150 cities across the U.S. and Canada.
The idea to whip “Fifty Shades” for laughs came during the summer of 2012, when a Mills’ colleague suggested the book could be prime material for a musical makeover. The company thought about checking into licensing rights — but didn’t think about the idea too long.
SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody
WHEN: Sunday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
HOW MUCH: $39.50
MORE INFO: www.theegg.org
“We immediately realized that there was no way that would be possible, given the heat of the title and the film was already in the works,” Mills said. “We decided a parody would be a great option and of the books written, this particular title might be the most ripe for parody.”
The “SPANK!” crew has been careful to stay out of legal jams. There are no characters named Anastasia Steele or Christian Grey; Danielle Trzcinski will play “Tasha Woode” and Drew Moerlein will perform as “Hugh Hanson.”
Author James is also a target — actress Anne Marie Scheffler will play writer “E.B. Janet.” The parody is not authorized by James or her publisher, Vintage Press. And Mills has not heard James’ opinion on the touring production.
“The number one rule in parody, from a legal standpoint, is we have to be critical. We have to be poking fun at the underlying content,” Mills said. “As long as we’re finding the humor — sort of like ‘Saturday Night Live’ — making fun of something, that’s the key, that we’re poking fun.”
Part of the fun is the play’s construction.
“One thing that our directors did is, rather than just tell the story of the book, the first character introduced in the show is the author, the woman who is writing this book,” Mills said. “She takes our audience on this journey with her as she escapes into this fantasy world and introduces her characters. So the way the show is constructed is really quite clever, and it breaks down the fourth wall. There’s some interaction with the audience, this author character interacts with both the audience and with the characters she’s creating in her fictitious novel.”
“SPANK!” puts girls in short college-girl skirts and German hofbräu outfits and guys in gray suits and short bathrobes. Both are in randy moods.
“ ‘SPANK!’ is the perfect girls’ night out,” Mills said. “The audience is mostly women, it gives them the chance to laugh together and have naughty escapist fun.”
But it’s all within reason. “We say it’s naughty, but it’s safe,” Mills said.
Inspired at Proctors
Mills has been interested in theater since his days at Scotia-Glenville, where he studied the usual subjects and developed his skills as a magician. Once out of class, Mills worked as an usher at Proctors in Schenectady.
“I remember sitting in the balcony stuffing programs before the show and just watching the load-in and the sound check and just realizing that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “Just be down on that stage, making it all happen. Over time, I started promoting shows. The first show I ever promoted was Penn & Teller at Proctors in 1997. From there, I started promoting comedy, primarily. It was really an evolution over the last 15 years.”
Mills is still promoting comedy. The team of Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie and “Nobodies of Comedy” are current productions. So is another parody, “The Hungry Hungry Games,” that takes shots are the hit book series.
“Some are theatrical, some are concert-driven,” Mills said of his shows. “A lot of our tours are derived from reality television and other properties.”
Cesar Millan, author and star of the Nat Geo Wild’s “Leader of the Pack” series, is on the team. So are Christopher Kimball of the PBS series “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro.
“What’s successful on the live stage is often a reflection of what’s successful in the media we consume at home,” Mills said. “In this case, the success of the [SPANK!] show is due to the success of the book title and in our reality tours, women and men enjoy coming out to see the personalities they’re meeting on television.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]