Chicago Theater Review: SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY (The Royal George Theater)

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by Kristin Walters on December 4, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has made millions, maybe billions, of dollars and counting, having set the record as the fastest-selling paperback of all time, surpassing the paperback sales of the Harry Potter series. Author E.L. James wrote fan-fiction as a hobby until her Twilight-inspired work turned into the unbelievably popular Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy—the scintillating tale of a sadomasochistic relationship between a sexually inexperienced female college student and a Kristin Walters’ Stage and Cinema review of Spank! at the Royal George Theatre in Chicagocontrolling, emotionally-troubled male billionaire. Despite the critical response, the trilogy remains on the best-seller list and tucked in everyone’s pocketbooks, and the internet flares with debates about who will star as the two main characters in the inevitable film versions. In short, people are taking a silly book very, very seriously—well, all except J.S. Blair, I.M. MacIntyre, J.A. Millan, S.A. Moran, C.J. Munch, A.M. Scheffler and I.P.Whalen, the team of writers behind Spank!, a piecemeal, low-budget musical parody now playing at The Royal George Theater.

The show reflects solely the first installment of the trilogy. It opens with a sexy strip tease from Hugh Hanson, our resident billionaire sadist for the evening. (The audience went wild, a bit tipsy from the “Inner Goddess Cocktails” offered at the Royal George Theater bar.) The parody begins when we meet our narrator, E.B. Janet, a sexually repressed middle-aged woman who, when her children and husband have gone for the weekend, hunkers down with a bottle of Chardonnay and decides to write a romance novel about a hopelessly naive heroine, Tasha Woode, using her vampire fan-fiction as inspiration.

Kristin Walters’ Stage and Cinema review of Spank! at the Royal George Theatre in ChicagoSoon, familiar moments for Fifty Shades readers swish by—Tasha interviewing Hugh, Tasha and Hugh at the hardware store, Tasha losing her virginity, Hugh lavishing Tasha with gifts while convincing her to become his sex-slave. Each scene is a self-contained roast of itself, lambasting the poor writing and characterization within. There are no emotional through strings, or if there are, they are severed by punctuations of seemingly random stripteases and audience interactions. Although the jokes are funny, there’s just no sense of forward motion, giving it a sketch comedy/improv sort of feel.

The action moves quickly, so properties for every new scene would weigh the piece down, but without clever direction from Jim Millan, David Miller’s bare set feels lazy and cheap. And speaking of bare, for considering itself a musical, Spank! lacks a significant amount of music. And it is a pity because the few lascivious songs are quite catchy and funny.

Kristin Walters’ Stage and Cinema review of Spank! at the Royal George Theatre in ChicagoThe greatest part of the show is Amanda Barker who plays the horny and surprisingly flexible, E.B. Janet. She’s sassy and provides an enormous amount of likeability to the driven, yet untalented writer. Michelle Vezilj imbues the weak heroine, Tasha Woode, with some extra necessary spark and snark. And despite the rather robotic disposition of his character Hugh Hanson, the handsome Drew Moerlein offers enough man for everyone during his unabashed strip sessions, clearly having a lot of fun.

Presumably the viewers of Spank! are fans of the book it parodies, or those very interested in the book but too ashamed to read it. But the show only shows the sexual side of the narrative, neglecting the emotions and humanity that have fueled its popularity. Simply put, the show feels rushed, like it was slapped together so it wouldn’t miss out on the mound of cash the runaway bestseller has garnered. The creators have gone for a cheap production and cheap laughs, ignoring the trust, love and devotion that makes the story in any way appealing, whether in parody form or not.

Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody
Just for Laughs Group and Mills Entertainment at The Royal George Theater
scheduled to end on December 16, 2012
for tickets, go to Royal George

info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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