Play by Play
Patrick Pacheco's inside look at the world of theater, and the crazy people who inhabit it

PLAY BY PLAY: Patrick Pacheco's inside look at the world of theater, and the crazy people who inhabit it

R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” Heads to Broadway

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As a man who music executive Barry Weiss once described as having “a bit of Irving Berlin” in him,  R. Kelly made no secret of his attraction to Broadway. In fact, the platinum-selling hip hop artist was Sylvester Stallone’s first idea to write the songs for the musical adaptation of “Rocky,” which just has a well-received world premiere in Hamburg, Germany. But it is now likely that it will be “Trapped in the Closet,” Kelly’s long-running “hip hopera,” with which he will make his Broadway debut.

Chapter 23 of this long-running song cycle and video series just debuted on IFC on Friday, November 23, and Kelly told the press that he is in negotiations with Broadway producers to adapt the saga for the musical stage. The colorful cast of characters — including Rosy the Nosy Neighbor, Crochety Randolph, the stuttering Pimp Lucius, and  the Reverend Mosley James — first came to light at the end of Kelly’s 2005 studio album, “TP.3 Reloaded.” In these five songs, Kelly sings of  a one-night stand by protagonist Sylvester, which leads to his sequester in the closet when the woman’s husband comes home unexpectedly. Hence the title, which also refers to the a gay relationship between Chuck and married Rufus, an earnest note in the otherwise wildly campy and much-parodied soap opera.

A compilation of the popular video series was released on DVD under the title of “The Big Package.” Judging by the response to the IFC premiere last week, “Trapped in the Closet” and its luridly amusing characters have the potential to take Broadway by storm. “I don’t have a job so I just sit in the studio and think up stupid stuff to do,” he said at last week’s press conference. “‘Trapped in the Closet’ is an alien, and I’m happy to be one of the astronauts.” Indeed, Tom Meehan, the playwright whom Stallone enlisted to write the libretto for “Rocky,” likes to tell the story of him and Stallone visiting Kelly to discuss the musical adaptation of the iconic boxing musical.”We opened the door of the studio to find Kelly and all these guys in full combat jungle fatigues and in the midst of re-creating these war scenes for what I think was a music video or just for inspiration, I’m not sure which,” said Meehan.  “It didn’t seem like the right time for R. Kelly to consider writing for Broadway then.”

After some discussions with Diane Warren — whose songbook has recently been optioned for a Broadway musical by producer Dede Harris — Stallone and Meehan settled on veteran songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime”).  Their songs, supplementing “Eye of the Tiger” and “Gonna Fly Now” from the film series, were singled out for praise in the rave reviews the show received  from German critics.

Image: R. Kelly stars in “Trapped in the Closet” / Courtesy IFC

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