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By John Quinn
What a difference a "g" makes. With a simple swap of a letter, ambitious playwrights can evade the long arm of a film company's legal department. Thus no trademark was hurt in the production of RoGoCoP! The Musical, a raucous parody at Ferndale's Go Comedy! Improv Theater. What a ripe target the 1987 sci-fi/action film (of a similar name) is! A dark satire in its own right, it features a plot almost too improbable even for fantasy. All it needed to tip it over the edge into broad comedy was a clever script and snappy tunes. Well, folks, I'm here to tell you playwright Sean May and composers May and Ryan Parmenter deliver all that and more.
As it frequently occurs, my gentle readers are probably more familiar with the cult classic film than am I. In a dystrophic, not-too-distant future, Detroit is under the management of a major corporation, Omni Consumer Products. With the city awash in a vicious crime wave, OPC opts for a radical step in law enforcement. The body of officer Alexander Murphy, killed in the line of duty, is used as the template for a cyborg cop. The robot is emotionless, relentless and dedicated. His search for his lost humanity, for the psychopathic gang that murdered him, and for the rot at the heart of OCP makes for a compelling plot. It also makes for a whole lot of blood and bullets.
Its source material broken down and rebuilt as musical theater, RoGoCoP! The Musical is about as funny as funny can get. The engaging Ryan and Parmenter score is a balance of rock and rap, and includes such endearing hits as I Don't Know How To Love a Robot and It's Not Easy Being Gay When You're a Gangster. From time to time the pitch may falter, but the enthusiasm never dies. A tip of the helmet is due to musical director Geff Philips.
Sean May's book is a smart re-imagination of the film script. He includes some of the original dialogue which, in this newer context, is ROFLMAO funny. He also manages to skewer the odder aspects of the movie, and the action film genre in general.
This is a large, talented cast, yet some performances still stand out. Among them are Sean May as RoGoCop, who manages to act and sing convincingly in that iconic but dorky helmet. He and Tara Tomcsik – RoGoCop's partner, Anne Lewis – are a well-matched pair. The scene-stealing Pete Podolski is an audience favorite as Emil, the gay "G." His show tune rendition of It's Not Easy Being Gay When You're a Gangster is a hit.
Yet ultimately what makes RoGoCoP! work is a cast that embraces the absurdity in the material and delivers it with such conviction we are swept up in the riot. Director Joe Plambeck puts his actors through a loud, physical staging that provides just the right touch of mania to this broad parody. So sleep soundly tonight, citizens of "slightly new Detroit." The future of comedy is in safe hands.
SHOW DETAILS: RoGoCoP! The Musical continues at Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale, Thursday-Friday through Sept. 1. Tickets: $15. For information: 248-327-0575 or www.gocomedy.net.
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