‘Sex Tips’ is good-natured, but needs to learn to relax

Show tips for “Sex Tips for Straight Women From a Gay Man”:

Try to relax.

Don’t try so hard.

And make the best of what you have.

What they have in this new show at Paris Las Vegas is rare on two fronts. For starters, it’s a play. You don’t see many of those on the Strip, especially without songs. People do get pulled up from the audience for improvised banter, but most of it’s scripted.

And though it’s based on a real book, “Sex Tips” is a play sold on celebrity: Kendra Wilkinson of “Kendra on Top” fame and Jai Rodriguez, a scripted-TV actor, but best known for the makeover show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

Even though “Sex Tips” isn’t as outrageous or funny as “50 Shades! The Parody” at Bally’s — a close neighbor in format as well as literal distance — it will have a higher profile. A TV crew filmed opening night for the new season of “Kendra on Top,” starting June 23 on We TV.

Too bad that’s the main reason to care.

Las Vegas needs to experiment, test new show formats. And “Sex Tips” isn’t bad. It’s amusing and good-natured and everybody ends up having fun. But, perhaps like Wilkinson’s parents on opening night, the whole audience is just a little too aware of the effort. A lot of it, in proportion to the middling, medium-burn laughs.

Most of the problems are structural. Matt Murphy’s off-Broadway script never quite hits that climactic peak of shock and hilarity the bachelorettes will be looking for.

We chuckle at Playboy star Wilkinson as the repressed host of a community college book discussion more than anything she actually says. Her guest is Rodriguez as the author of the “Sex Tips” book who transforms a dry lecture into an infomercial party. “I bring my own sound effects,” he notes of his grand entry.

Author Dan quickly senses the tension between Wilkinson’s Robyn and Stefan (Michael Milton), the hunky third character hired for more than his ability to run the lights and sound. The lecture quickly becomes a makeover and how-to manual to get Robyn where she really wants to be — in Stefan’s pumped-up arms.

Stefan ends up stealing the show. Murphy has an easier time giving him deadpan punch lines than turning a sex manual into a narrative. The show half-heartedly aspires to an instructional mission, but the actual “tips” are pretty basic.

Each “chapter,” starting with “It Takes Two to Titillate,” is supposed to get more graphic and outrageous. But this is Las Vegas, where we’ve seen a lot of people pulled on stage to be embarrassed, and where it takes more than the metaphoric use of a food processor to shock us.

But it’s Kendra you’re likely paying to see. And the more time she gets to spend on stage with Rodriguez, the better she’s going to be. He nails that perfect balance of doing just enough acting to protect the premise but otherwise just turning on the charm, playing to the crowd and having fun with it all.

Not so Wilkinson, who actually worked with an acting coach to get to this community-theater level of proficiency. It may have hurt more than it helped. We like Robyn most when Kendra peeks through. There’s no reason for Kendra to stop being Kendra at this point, especially with a script that doesn’t give her enough good reason to change.

Contact Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288. Follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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