If it is possible to execute a full-body leer, actor Jack Boice has mastered the trick. A scene in the campy entertainment “50 Shades! The Musical” finds the performer — wearing a skimpy red jumpsuit that exposes his by-no-means washboard stomach — strutting back and forth and executing the odd capering dance step, every inch of his physique seeming to express a goofily aggressive ogle.
Boice, of course, is channeling a spoof of Christian Grey, the wealthy dreamboat whose exotic sexual tastes and knotty rapport with the innocent student Anastasia Steele turned E.L. James’s erotic “Fifty Shades” trilogy into a publishing sensation. In the sendup whose four-performance run at the Warner Theatre ends today, three women in a book club (Sheila O’Connor, Alexis Field, and, at the reviewed performance, Caroline Reade, standing in for the ill Tiffany Dissette) choose the first novel in the trilogy as their latest read.
Through the eyes of this titillated trio, we watch Grey open his red room of pain to Anastasia (Eileen Patterson, keeping an admirably straight face as she radiates discomfiture and confused ecstasy). We also meet a few other characters, such as Ana’s suitor Jose (Nick Semar, all deliberately cartoonish tango moves), and we encounter some meta-theatrical touches — visual references to “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables,” for instance — while listening to numbers such as Ana’s soul-baring “There’s a Hole Inside of Me.”
An onstage three-piece band churns out the pop, R&B and gospel-flavored accompaniment to the songs, but otherwise the production values are cheerfully low-key. Directed by Al Samuels (who shares book and songwriting credits with several others), “50 Shades!” was reportedly a hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and it still has the minimalist look of a fringe show, although a couple of hunky dancers (BJ Gruber and Datus Puryear) sometimes wander onto the largely bare stage for some mock-sultry choreography. (One, um, climactic dance piece erupts in a frenzy of white streamers.)
But the joystick that drives the show is the simple matching of performer with allusion (some of it explicit) and innuendo. At Thursday’s performance, for instance, the gloating turn of Boice’s Grey, singing about his carnal eccentricities in “I Don’t Make Love,” unleashed shrieks of audience enthusiasm.
Actually, the evening was awash in shrieks from the audience, who appeared to be in high spirits, and in the case of many female attendees, an advanced stage of girl-power euphoria. A more sober theatergoer could have been forgiven for wishing that the whips and pink furry handcuffs on sale in the lobby could restrain the raucousness a bit.
Wren is a freelance writer.
Written by Amanda B. Davis, Emily Dorezas, Al Samuels, Jody Shelton, Ashley Ward and Dan Wessels; music and lyrics by Davis, Samuels, Shelton, Ward and Wessels. Directed by Al Samuels; associate director, Rob Lindley; musical director, Riley Thomas; choreographer, Joanna Greer; associate choreographer, Brad Landers; light design, Mitra Jouhari. About 90 minutes. Tickets $32.50-$52.50. Through Jan. 18 at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW. For information, visit www.50ShadesMusical.com or www.warnertheatredc.com. For tickets, call (800) 551-7328 or visit www.livenation.com or www.ticketmaster.com.