It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the Fifty Shades of Grey book series. Having read all three, I wrote a blog post sharing my opinions on the relationship in the book – which I consider to be grossly unhealthy, manipulative and abusive – and received numerous comments and e-mails calling me judgmental, highly religious and sexually frigid, among other things. While I do not enjoy or appreciate the books, and I think they pose a huge danger to the feminism movement, I am fascinated by their popularity and the place they have received in our culture. So when I heard a musical parody of the books would begin playing Off-Broadway, I knew I had to go.
Cuff Me: The Fifty Shades of Grey Musical Parody was written by Bradford McMurran, Jeremiah Albers, and Sean Michael Devereux of the improv group The Pushers. It was conceived by Tim Flaherty, who is also a contributing author along with Sonya Carter who is directing. Performed in the Actor’s Temple (yes, a place of worship), Cuff Me spoofs the book’s story as well as its popularity. Starring Matthew Brian Bagley, Laurie Elizabeth Gardner, Alex Gonzalez and Tina Jensen, it’s an entertaining and amusing show that inspired a great deal of laughter – and a few raised eyebrows.
Cuff Me opens with two women receiving pedicures, while one of them pages through Fifty Shades of Grey and utters a few moans of pleasure. She begins telling the other woman about the book, and the cast then begins acting the book’s story. Some substantial changes in the plot have been made, the most significant being that Anastasia is presented as a ditzy airhead with no common sense, rather than the shy, meek woman she is written as in the book. At first I wasn’t sure why this change had been implemented, but I quickly realized that if Ana were played onstage as she had been written, there would be no story. It would be simply too boring. And written as she was for the stage, taking everything literally and without question, Ana had the ability to reflect some of the ridiculous aspects of the plot that a character true to the book would not have. I did laugh very loudly when she deadpanned, “I just get special treatment because I’m the protagonist of this story.”
The show includes pop songs with the lyrics re-written to fit into the story. “Big Spender” is sung as Ana falls into Christian’s office to interview her. “Poker Face” becomes “Call Christian Grey,” and “If I Were a Rich Man” is sung by a gay lawyer who encourages Ana to sign Christian’s submission contract as “If I Were In Your Shoes.” Naturally, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” has a place in the show as well. All of the songs are performed by the very talented cast, which features Laurie Elizabeth Gardner as Ana, Matthew Brian Bagley as Christian, Alex Gonzalez in multiple roles including Ana’s lawyer, her inner goddess, one of the women at the nail salon and Tina Jensen as Ana’s roommate Kat, also her inner goddess, the other woman at the nail salon and more.
Gardner is a talented dancer and skillfully portrays Ana’s deadpan humor and innocence. As Christian, Bagley skilfully portrays the man’s controlling tendencies and sex appeal. Bagley is hilarious in all of his roles, and his singing voice is especially strong, and Jensen steals the scene as Kat, determinedly trying to work her subplot into the story and even bursting into, “And I am telling you, I’m not going,” when Ana tries to force her off the stage.
Aside from the cast itself, what I enjoyed the most about Cuff Me was its portrayal of some of the more ridiculous aspects of the book. Ana repeatedly mentions her inner goddess, and she actually appears onstage in Cuff Me, depicting how absurd the idea is when it is actually depicted. It also made fun of the contract Christian asks Ana to sign before becoming his submissive, including outlandish things like, “being gnawed on by feral foxes.” And Christian’s red room of pain is filled with weapons hanging on the wall, but if you look closely, you can also find a few more amusing prop pieces, like a rubber chicken.
I did hope that Cuff Me would bring up the more feminist aspects of the show, and there were some great mentions of it here and there, like when one woman at the nail salon says to the other, “It’s like a whole women’s lib movement in 500 pages.” And when Christian begins ordering Ana around, he says, “I don’t want you drinking-” and she obediently spits out the beverage onto the table before he finishes the sentence with, “alcohol.” Given my disgust for the books and them being viewed as a love story, I would have enjoyed more of that in this show, but I also recognize that it wasn’t the intention of Cuff Me to be a feminist diatribe. It was meant to be a funny spoof, and it was. Or, as one of the women said to the other, “It’s not about the characters or the writing or the story. It’s about the pages and pages of smut.”