"RoboCop," the classic 1987 dystopian action film set in Detroit, has seen a revival in recent years, perhaps because its themes – privatization of city services, corporatization of everyday life, and militarization of the police – are more pertinent than ever. A remake of the film was released in 2014 and there have been consistent attempts to erect a statue of the cyborg police officer in Detroit
While some find the latter effort controversial, no one can dispute the necessity of "RoboCop! The Musical
," which will be performed at the City Theater in downtown Detroit over a run of nine shows starting Feb. 19.
Sean May, who wrote the playbook, co-wrote the music, and is the lead actor (RoboCop, in other words), says the idea for the parody is a product of his love for the 1987 original. "As a rambunctious little kid, I thought 'RoboCop' was coolest thing I'd ever seen in my life. It was my default movie at the rental store if I couldn't find anything else to watch."
In its debut run at Go Comedy! Improv Theater
in Ferndale, "RoboCop! The Musical" played to full houses. Its popularity earned it a second run, and a successful Kickstarter
campaign, which raised $1,000 above its goal, allowed May and musician Ryan Parmenter to record an official soundtrack with help from Groovebox Studios.
This positive feedback convinced May that the show had the potential to play in front bigger audiences. Thanks to what May describes as "consistent pestering" of the City Theater's creative director by himself and director Tommy LeRoy, he'll get that opportunity. It's an appropriate venue, being the former home of Second City Detroit, the theater where May first started writing and performing comedy.
May promises there will be something for everyone in the show. He recommends fans of the movie watch it a day or two before seeing the musical so they can catch all the insider references. For musical-enthusiasts, there's a song in the style of practically every genre of popular music. Those who saw the musical during its initial run should return because of the expanded production. "The show is going to be bigger," says May. "We're going from a theater that seats 90 to one with 430. We didn't want to make it look and feel the same."
But at its core, this is a show about Detroit. May, who grew up in East Detroit (he doesn't like to call it by its new name, Eastpointe) notes that beyond its setting, the original movie was a kind of parable for the city itself.
"A cop gets killed, the corporate heads want to turn him into an autonomous law-enforcement officer, but then he starts to remember who he is," says May. "That's Detroit. It's always been an awesome city. It's taken some beatings over the years. And now people are rediscovering it.
"Sure it's a funny show and I poke fun at everything and there's dick jokes, but its beating heart is a love letter to Detroit."
At one point during the writing process, May was worried about copyright issues. Because of these concerns, the show was initially titled "RoGoCop." After asking other comedians, he's "pretty confident" that the musical is protected under parody law. Either way, it doesn't bother him. "If MGM came after us, how awesome would that be?" says May. "It would be just like the movie – the big guy coming after the little guy."
"RoboCop! The Musical" begins its run of nine shows on Feb. 19 at the City Theatre (2301 Woodward Ave.). Tickets can be purchased online here.
Aaron Mondry is a Detroit-based writer and comedian. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmondry.
All photos by Scott Myers