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Screaming women encourage the sexual goings-on at the Hanna Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)


There are some weird and off-beat goings-on in downtown Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare.  At the State, cross-dressers and a transvestite are feverishly dancing and preening in PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, THE MUSICAL.  At the Hanna, witches and warlocks are cavorting in BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE.  On stage at the Hanna, in SPANK!  THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY, whips, chains, handcuffs and undulating abs have the mostly 20-something female crowd screaming for more.  Yes, female crowd…the farer sex outnumbered the males by at least 100 to 1.

British author, Ericka Leonard’s Fifty Grades of Grey erotic novel trilogy (e.g., FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, FIFTY SHADES DARKER and FIFTY SHADES FREED) has sold 65 million copies, making it the biggest selling paperback series of all time.

It is, as I was told by Cher, Rachel and Janine, the helpful trio of beauties sitting behind me, a take-off on all those soft back novels available in drug stores, that are consumed by women who sit at home consuming calories and sexual illusions.  You know, the books with the photo-shopped sculpted, gym-toned male studs on the cover.

In addition, the trio told me that some vignettes in the FIFTY SHADES books have allusions to the TWILIGHT series, the four vampire-themed novels by  American author Stephanie Meyer.

I must, in full-disclosure, admit to not having read any of the Leonard or Meyer books, so little did I know what I was getting in for when I entered the “she-den,” known most of the time as The Hanna Theatre.

SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADES OF PARODY is a musical written by seven, yes, seven authors.  There is little music, and the story line, I was told by my bevy of beauties, parallels the first book and tacks on the ending of the second book. (I have to trust them that this is true.  Would those cuties lie to me?)

The “story” concerns a woman writer who has the weekend where her husband and children are off to Disneyland, to write one or more books aimed at adult women.  The requisites?  The novels must contain lots of sex, sado masochism, sex, fantasy, sex, anatomical and slang references to about every part of a woman’s body, sex, and some more sex.

The heroine, Anastasia Steele, is created before our eyes by the writer, who tinkers and adjusts the script as we observe.  Ana encounters wealthy, studly, Hugh Hanson, a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control.  A man of perfectly formed abs and a vivid sexual imagination, which centers mostly on s and m.  He is beautiful, brilliant and intimidating, and looks great in his form fitting tiny Batman underwear, that conceal little, and skin tight jeans, which also leave little to the imagination.

The innocent Ana longs to be with him, and surrender her virginity.  (Were you expecting something else?)  Huge (I mean Hugh…hmm…was that a Freudian slip?) wants her, but on his own terms, which is included in a long contract (like the type Sheldon requires of those with whom he is in relationship on TV’s THE BIG BANG THEORY).  Along the way, the story includes snatches from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, CHARLEY AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, and of course, TWILIGHT.  This is a tale of obsession, possession and a night of fantasy when the women viewers go home and relive the experience through dreams in their own beds.

SPANK! is a hoot for the first half hour.  It kind of bogs down after the titillation is over.  It picks up when Alice Moran (Tasha) goes out into the audience to castigate (or castrate) the guy in the front row who has the nerve to be texting while the show is going on, and then ask advice from another audience member about what is proper to insert into one’s posterior, tushie, butt.   (BTW…the woman who was being queried, answered “Nothing,” but was talked into a modification of her response.)

Suzanne Sole (E. G. Janet) has a great time being the “writer” of the novel which develops before our eyes.  After a while, however, her repeated attempts at sexuality got a bit much.  She has a nice singing voice, which, unfortunately, didn’t get a lot of use.

Alice Moran (Tasha Woode), has a wonderful wide-eyed innocence and does well with the humor.

I can assume that the woman would have liked more of handsome, sensual Gabe Bowling (Hugh Hanson) stripping, bumping, grinding, and playing Chippendale dancer.  Moving out onto the runway that surrounded the thrust part of the stage might have met with dollar bills thrust into his Batman briefs.  The women who lined up after the show to have their picture taken with the dangerous dude were loving every minute of it.  Some had to be restrained from touching the merchandise!

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADES OF PARODY is definitely not a production for everyone.  Twenty-something women, with maybe a few 30s and 40s thrown in, who have read and love THE SHADES OF GREY trilogy, want to let loose, have a couple of glasses of wine and scream and yell, will have a great time.  Others, like this old white guy who hasn’t read the books, should have been at home! 

SPANK! runs through January 27 at the HANNA THEATRE.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to