The plot of the 1987 movie "RoboCop" is about as straightforward as its absurd title, right?
A murdered Detroit police officer is resurrected as a cyborg to help quell a spike in violent crime. Well, Sean May, creator of "RoboCop! The Musical," has an intriguing theory that it's more complex than it seems.
"The character Alex Murphy, RoboCop himself, is a metaphor for Detroit," May explains. "He's a man who goes down in the line of duty, and then corporate entities turn him into this over-expensive, flashy, technologically advanced weapon. Throughout the course of the movie he rediscovers he's the same man he always was. Detroit has always been Detroit, no matter what. You can slap casinos on it, put flashy lights on it, and have some corporate owner come in and put their own security patrols on foot, but Detroit has always been Detroit. You can't change that."
If you haven't guessed, May has seen the film more times than he can count. Like many other young boys growing up in the late '80s and early '90s, May fell in love with the crime fighting robot, and the movie became a staple of his childhood VHS diet.
"If I couldn't find a new movie I wanted to watch I would always grab 'RoboCop,'" May recalls. "When I was a kid there was nothing cooler than watching Peter Weller in a giant cyborg costume battling bad guys and dropping the name Detroit over and over again."
May first conceived "RoboCop! The Musical" (originally called "RoGoCop! The Musical") in 2009 as a way to boost attendance at Ferndale's Go! Comedy Improv Theater during the slow summer months. May and his writing partner, Ryan Parmenter, crafted a loving parody of the original film, featuring riotous and surprisingly emotional songs like "I Don't Know (How to Love a Robot)" and "It's Not Easy Being Gay When You're a Gangster."
The musical had a highly successful run in 2010, and it's been evolving ever since. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign May was able to finance a professional musical soundtrack. Due in part to the franchise's built-in fan base, May exceeded his $5,000 goal, raising $6,000 from 100 backers.
This year the musical moves from Go! Comedy's 90-seat theater to the 400-seat City Theatre in Detroit. Director Tommy LeRoy says he's been working on upgrading the production values to better suit the much larger venue.
"We're in the process of rebuilding an entirely new RoboCop costume, and a new ED-209 costume that's almost life-size from the movie," says LeRoy. "We also brought in a new choreographer and a new music director. We have a slightly larger cast, so we're adding them into the musical numbers where we can. There's a lot more choreography, a lot more singing in it."
May says this new incarnation of the production doubles as a test run for a national tour, but he still wants to emphasize "RoboCop's" roots.
"I want you to feel that you are part of something cool that took place in your city," May says. "I want people who have a little sense of ownership of, 'I'm from Detroit, I saw this show in Detroit, and it's a show about Detroit. How cool is that?'"
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
'RoboCop! The Musical'
Thursday - March 1
2301 Woodward, Detroit