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Steve Curran wrote a hit song and didn't even know it.

It's not on the top of the Billboard charts, you won't hear it on the radio. But people cheer for it every day and have been for more than a decade.

It's the theme song at MJR Theaters, and each time it plays — meaning before every movie, every day, every month, every year — audiences clap. It's part of the ritual, as close as you can get to doing a dance routine in a dark room with a horde of strangers.

You can see a movie anywhere these days, and you're going to get a pretty gosh-darn good experience. Stadium seating is the norm, sound is optimal, screens are crisp.

But only one chain has the song and the bond that comes with it. And as the song goes, it's more fun at MJR.

At MJR cineplexes — there are nine in Metro Detroit — audiences are treated to a pre-movie commercial for the chain featuring clips from recent movies over a funky rock track with a rubbery bass line. It sounds sort of like a sitcom theme or a jingle from a furniture ad.

A male voice belts, "It's more than just a movie, it's a big night out!" Then, in unison and without fail, audience members clap three times — CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! — to the beat.

Chuckles fill the theater as newbies try to figure out what on Earth is going on, but that fades out as the song ramps up to its big conclusion. The voice asserts again, "It's more than just a movie, IT'S A BIG NIGHT OUT!" and the audience smacks their hands together three more times.

The song closes with a repeating chorus, "It's more fun at MJR," sung by what might as well be a choir of angels. Good luck getting it out of your head, no matter what movie you're about to see.

The song has been rattling around moviegoers' heads since it debuted in 2001; the clapping started two or three years later. Teen and weekend crowds clap loudest, but even during matinee showings of "Jersey Boys" over the summer, regulars knew when to chime in.

Robin Hansen, MJR's director of marketing, isn't sure how the clapping started, but she knows why it continues. "It's infectious," she says. "It only takes once, and you realize how catchy it is."

The song would have a kitsch value on its own, but the claps make it sing. It works because it's an unexpected communal experience: Outside of "Rocky Horror Show" screenings, folks generally keep to themselves at the movies. But when a whole theater participates in a choreographed ritual, especially a knowingly cheesy one, it breaks everyone out of their comfort zones. It's a great equalizer.

Curran, who wrote the song with co-writers Julie Magsig and Mark Miller (the big voice belongs to Mark Bucchare), had no idea it was a sensation, or even that it was still in rotation. He's a commercial songwriter in Lansing and he's not blessed with an MJR Theater nearby, so he has never experienced his song with an audience. He did the job — he was paid around $15,000, he recalls — and didn't think about it again until he was contacted for this story.

"I remember it was done in the tradition of an old classic jingle, and we wanted something with a strong hook. That was the main thing we were looking for," says Curran, who at the time was cranking out six to 10 pieces of music a month. He's tickled by the theme's lasting appeal and he plans to see a movie at an MJR theater soon to experience the phenomenon first hand.

He's got time. MJR's Hansen says they'll continue to update the clips in the reel, but there are no plans to shelve or switch up the theme song anytime soon.

"It's got a cult following," she says. "If we got rid of it, we would have an uproar."

CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! to that.

agraham@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/grahamorama

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