Parody is fun when it takes a common cultural experience and dissects its flaws and quirks. However, a great parody manages to surprise the viewer, even as it adheres to its universally known story. Combining fine writing, abundant production values, and sharp direction by Joe Plambeck, Go Comedy!’s world preimere of RoGoCop! The Musical (book by Sean May, music by May and Ryan Parmenter) brings astonishment and hilarity to an exceptional spoof.
Set in year circa–The Future, Slightly New Detroit is riddled with crime and unable to fund basic public services. The police force is contracted out to a supercorporation, OCP, whose executives want to replace weak sleep- and paycheck-needing humans with bulletproof automatons. Their test case is sacrificial lamb Murphy (May), the newest cop at Metro West who is shot down in the line of duty and reborn as a hybrid robot-cop — or, if you will, a Robo[REDACTED for copyright]. The secret of RoGoCop’s origins as Murphy are soon found out by his former partner, Officer Lewis (Tara Tomcsik), whose guilt over Murphy’s death propels her to fall in love with him and help him exact justice on the men responsible for his death, both above and below the law.
During and in between these developments, May bombards the viewer with references both contemporary and relevant to the 1987 film, winks at the contrived narrative structure, pays homage to the childish dick-joke bent of many ‘80s films, skewers geographical inaccuracies, and generally wrings laughter out of every circumstance. The script and the humor is all over the map, yet the production never meanders — it gallops. That May, Plambeck, and company are able to not only tell the RoboCop story, but playfully eviscerate it as well, and still come in 10 minutes shorter than the original film is exactly the treatment a dated sci-fi/action/vigilante story calls for.
Further complementing and enhancing the humor of the script are May and Parmenter’s inventive and cheeky songs, with influences ranging from rap to vaudeville to metal, performed over a prerecorded soundtrack. Under music director Geff Phillips, the best of the numbers not only enhances the character, but makes the character — in particular, corporate mogul Bryan Lark’s bombastic, unhinged self-importance and Pete Podolski’s outstanding turn as something more than the stock-character gangster. In the title role, May excels as RoGoCop, pulling off the tricky challenge of emoting with his entire robotic body in lieu of his shielded eyes; opposite him, Tomcsik nails the duality of tough-as-nails man’s equal and sexy ingénue that reigns in Hollywood storytelling. Micah Caldwell brings his soulless Clarence Boddicker a nerdy menace that engenders real danger in the climactic scenes. Strong supporting performances by Podolski, Dez Walker, Brian Papandrea, Sean McGettigan, and “RoGoGirls” Cara Trautman and Genevieve Jona, each portraying a number of roles, fill out the world of the play and make way for campily overblown group numbers choreographed by Molly Zaleski.
The many looks and moods of the play are enthusiastically lit by designer Michelle LeRoy, and video newscasts (featuring Parmenter and Carrie Lynn Hall) efficiently cut through the expository murk. Incredibly, every other element of the production is ruled by Tommy LeRoy. From frosted-glass boardroom doors to a riotous end-around approach to a crucial stairwell scene to RoGoCop’s iconic helmet and breastplate, nearly every visual and auditory joke is his doing, and it is characteristically rich and flawlessly incorporated into the narrative. LeRoy is a master of both heightening and perfecting his effects, and his set, properties, costumes, and sounds (the last assisted by Pete Jacokes) are a major factor in the production’s success.
From concept to execution, from beginning to end, RoGoCop! The Musical is parody done exceedingly well. This is a play whose satire never loses sight of the larger narrative, and whose inventive deconstruction never loses sight of its humor. Here is ninety charging minutes of smart dissection of source material, utter commitment to silly songs and characters, and, above all, an unbelievably entertaining experience.