50 Shades parody draws audiences of screaming women

After heating up box offices in the U.S., a hit Canadian stage spoof of the bestselling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey is attracting interest around the world as it gets set to debut in Toronto.

Canadian spoof SPANK! set for Toronto debut after sell-out shows in U.S.

Actors Alice Moran and Patrick Whalen are stars of SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody, which plays at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto this Wednesday to Sunday. (Paul Schnaittacher/Canadian Press)

After heating up box offices in the U.S., a hit Canadian stage spoof of the bestselling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey is attracting interest around the world as it gets set to debut in Toronto.

Mills Entertainment and Just For Laughs will present SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto from Wednesday to Sunday after sold-out shows in Springfield, Mass., Hartford, Conn., and Las Vegas.

The comedy is also due to open in Chicago later this month.

"It feels like a rock concert," Jim Millan, the Toronto-based director and co-writer, said of the electrifying vibe from the audience.

"Like, the women are screaming — 900 women, some of whom show up with husbands, but not very many. Mostly it's a women's night out and they sort of scream from the time that the lights go down," he said in a recent phone interview from the Rio Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

"We anticipated that the love they have for the book would translate into their enthusiasm for a night out but we couldn't imagine it would be like this."

The response to the unauthorized musical parody has been so strong, in fact, that shortly after its premiere in Springfield in early October, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) signed on to represent it in the U.S.

Now, two different companies are considering touring SPANK! and two different producers in New York have expressed "strong interest" in an off-Broadway production, said Millan, founder of Crow's Theatre in Toronto.

Producers in the U.K. and Australia have also inquired about buying the rights to the show or working with the creators to stage it, he added.

Alice Moran, Patrick Whalen and Anne Marie Scheffler star in the Toronto production, about a wannabe erotic fiction writer who sends her kids and husband away to Disneyland so she can write her racy manuscript.

All original material

While the show is a parody of E. L. James's hugely popular Fifty Shades of Grey, which features bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, it's completely original material.

Millan says he asked lawyers to study the books and the script make sure there were no legal issues.

The show includes musical numbers as well as improvised material, audience interaction and burlesque-style scenes.

"It feels a bit Second City, a bit Saturday Night Live, a bit Kids in the Hall — at times when the women are screaming, a bit Chippendales,"' said Millan, who's known for directing the Kids In The Hall comedy group, also a Canadian export.

But while there is some sexy stuff in the show, "there's no attempt to be graphic, and in fact what's been fun is watching women from, like, 21 to 60 or 71 come to the show," noted Millan.

Wearing grey ties, shirts

Ticket buyers are encouraged to arrive at the theatre early to get a signature SPANK! cocktail. After the show is a meet and greet with the cast.

Millan said he's seen many audience members wear silver-grey ties and shirts with the words "Laters, baby," which are both references to the book.

"The husbands and (others) that get towed along certainly can understand it and they're laughing, too, and I think it turns out well for them — after they go home," he noted with a laugh.

The show's Toronto-based writers, comics and improvisers also include Jon Blair, Ian MacIntyre and Colin Munch.

Millan embarked on the project in mid-August on the suggestion of his American producer-friend, Mike Mills.

At that point, Millan hadn't read Fifty Shades of Grey so he brought it with him on his summer holiday with his family in Alberta's Rockies.

So many read all 3 books

"I think women would recognize what has become a very famous cover, and so sitting at a cafe or something (reading the book) while my kids played on teeter-totters with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, I think maybe women walking by thought, 'He's an interesting dad,"' said Millan.

"But to me I thought it was hilarious and I, each step of the way, have loved and welcomed conversation about the book.... Usually when I asked somebody, 'You've read it?' and almost every woman says, 'Yes.' The other answer I get is, 'I've read the trilogy."'

When SPANK! went on sale in Springfield, the theatre company there had just put their whole season of 17 different shows on sale a few days before that and they sold $15,000 worth of tickets in total.

"Ours went on sale and in the first day we sold $20,000 worth of tickets. So again, it's like, 'Well, that happened,"' said Millan.

Producers were concerned ahead of the Las Vegas opening because it was on the same day as the U.S. election.

"I was thinking we were going to open to an audience of desert sand because we were on the same night as the American presidential election," said Millan.

"Suddenly, from the morning we had a few tickets sold, the line stretched around the casino and we sold out 550 seats in the course of the day while the cliffhanger American election was going on."