By Jackson Howard, Daily Music Editor
Published February 12, 2014
Since the earliest days of mass-produced popular culture, only a select few works by a handful of trailblazers have managed to transcend general societal acceptance and enter into the increasingly treasured realm of “cult classic.” R. Kelly’s magnum opus, the 33 chapter hip hopera “Trapped in the Closet,” is not only an undeniable cult classic — it is a hilarious, gripping, absurd and addicting masterpiece of sex, deception, drama and emotion that is blended together with an extra-special R. Kelly twist.
Trapped in the Closet Sing-a-Long
Friday at 10:30 p.m.
The Michigan Theater
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Gay priests? Check. Stuttering pimps? Of course. Philandering midgets hiding in cabinets? You betcha. R. Kelly voicing an entire cast of characters ranging from a nosy old lady to an ex-convict named Twan? Yes, yes, absolutely yes.
This Friday, on Valentine’s Day no less, the Michigan Theater will be hosting a “Trapped in the Closet” SING-A-LONG for Kelly diehards and newbies alike in the name of having fun and celebrating a cultural landmark. The theater first hosted the event this past August, and Emily Mathews, the theater’s marketing director, was more than surprised by the turnout. In addition to the 250 people who showed up — more impressive considering that students were not even back for classes yet — Mathews was blown away by their enthusiasm.
“It was much more animated than anything we’ve ever had — concerts even. I’ve been to tons of shows here, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mathews said. “People were so into it. It was incredible.”
The theater’s programming director, Brian Hunter, initially pitched the idea to the executive director, who was skeptical. But after Mathews got on board, the two of them were able to convince their higher-ups and put the show in place. Alamo Draft House, a chain of theaters in close contact with the theater, had received the licensing rights from R. Kelly himself to publish the subtitled version of the show that the theater will use Friday night.
In addition to the pre-show R. Kelly music video dance party, full subtitled versions of the original 22 chapters and complimentary goodie bags, which last time included condoms and fake money “so you could make it rain,” Mathews explains, this edition of the sing-a-long features a special guest appearance from Eric Lane, better known to “Closet” fans as Twan.
“It’s totally different. It’s nothing that’s been done before,” Lane said, discussing the show’s place in pop culture lore. “Over the years, we’ve adapted ourselves to a certain way that music is and what we’re accustomed to. With ‘Trapped in the Closet,’ it changed. People see it and they are just amazed.”
Lane started working on the show as R. Kelly’s stand-in. But a casting director told Kelly about Lane’s experience and talent, and after an audition, Lane assumed the role of Twan — Kelly’s character’s brother-in-law — whose debut in Chapter 7 begins with him getting shot.
Being that Kelly voices every character in the show, learning to lip-sync to perfection takes a lot of effort for the actors. “(Doing ‘Trapped in the Closet’) is totally different. Being an actor, you usually word your words the way you want to. But when it comes to saying the lines with this, we have to be saying exactly what (R. Kelly) is saying,” Lane explained. “We have to study the songs everyday constantly. I’m in the studio for hours with him, just learning these songs.”
In a cast of memorable characters, Twan has become especially beloved by fans for his tough-guy persona, humor and loyalty. For Lane, Twan’s popularity rests in the viewer’s ability to understand the character. “Twan is someone you can relate to everyday. You always want that person who would stick up for you and stand by you no matter what, and Twan’s one of those guys. He’s just the best,” said Lane. “Twan is definitely gangsta, but he has that softer side, he doesn’t want to see people being used, he always wants to take up for his brother-in-law and that’s how a brother-in-law should be.”
Though he’s worked extensively in film and television in productions like “Barbershop,” “Prison Break” and “Chicago Fire,” Lane’s experience working on “Trapped in the Closet” was undoubtedly special and ultimately career changing. “Over the years, ‘Trapped in the Closet’ has become a cult classic,” Lane said, echoing Mathews’ comparing of the show to the cult hit “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“The show has changed my life a lot. Now when I go places, I’ve had people come up to me crying. Not Michael Jackson status,” he said, laughing, “but everywhere I go people recognize me, pictures, autographs, everything.”
Whatever the reason, “Trapped in the Closet” has become one of the most celebrated cultural occurrences in recent memory. Just as impressive, however, is the fact that the show isn’t loved only by the expected R&B fanbase, but rather an extensive and eclectic mix of people from every type of background who will be at the Michigan on Friday and have nothing in common with one another besides their obsession with “Trapped in the Closet.”
“‘Trapped in the Closet’ is the modern day ‘Star Wars.’ You know, everybody loves it,” Lane said.
Added Mathews, “(‘Trapped in the Closet’) is the best soap opera ever. It’s just kitschy fun. Who would’ve thought? R. Kelly, bringing people together.”
—CORRECTION APPENDED: A previous version of this article noted that the event was taking place at the State Theater. The event is actually taking place tonight at the Michigan Theater at the aforementioned time.