What do you get when you mash up “Fifty Shades of Grey” with “Sesame Street”? The answer would be “Fifty Shades of Felt,” the parody opening on July 20 at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale and it’s not the kind of puppet show for children.
An obvious comparison could be made with the Tony Award-winning musical “Avenue Q,” a puppet show with plenty of adult themes and some PG-rated simulated, puppet sex, but the characters of “Fifty Shades of Felt” have kinky itches like the show’s “mommy porn” inspiration.
“Fifty Shades of Felt” is the creation of Shaun Michael McNamara, artistic director of the All Puppet Players, and has been running in Phoenix, Ariz. for more than three years. The Empire Stage production is being produced and directed by Ronnie Larsen, who recently relocated to South Florida from Southern California.
“Fifty Shades of Felt” is a departure for Larsen, best known for the gay-themed plays, “Making Porn” and, more recently, “Shooting Porn” and “Happy Ending.” Larsen jumped at the opportunity to add “Fifty Shades of Felt” to his upcoming series at both Empire Stage and Andrews Living Arts in the FAT Village arts district.
“Recently, I’ve become obsessed with these really great shows that have basically played forever in one city, but never been seen anywhere else,” explained Larsen. “That show has played for three years and is still selling out. It’s that funny.”
Even though the show explores the dark world of straight BDSM and relationships, Larsen said the Phoenix production has also proven popular with LGBT audiences.
“Gay or straight, the situations are hilarious,” he said, noting the camp factor. “Besides, they’re puppets!”
Larsen added, “They’re puppets with no legs, so it leaves you wondering just where those puppeteers’ hands are going. Let’s just say that the sex scenes force us to be very creative, too.”
There are inherent challenges with an all-puppet play, Larsen also admitted, like the puppets themselves. He has spent weeks constructing and adapting puppets for the various “demands” of the script. He will also be taking on the job of puppet costume designer, a new role for the versatile writer/director/actor.
And, “Fifty Shades of Felt” will also open at Empire Stage on the same night as a one-man show he is producing, “Big Bright Star,” about the aspiration of an actor to rise within the gay porn industry, written and starring real-life porn star and burlesque performer Chris Harder at Andrews Living Arts. On the same evening, the world premiere production of Larsen’s play, “Happy Ending,” will transfer to Seven Stages in Atlanta.
Larsen is so confident Fort Lauderdale audiences will embrace his all-puppet productions, he’s already started on a new play that is sure to entice lesbian and gay fans, “Orange is the New Felt,” a parody of Netflix’s hit series, “Orange is the New Black.”
“Fifty Shades of Felt” will be performed July 20 – Aug. 20 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $35 at RonnieLarsen.com.