‘Detroit Musical Movie’ premieres with a satirical history of the city

The preview of “The Detroit Musical Movie” is entwined with the kind of inside jokes that unite those who consider themselves Detroiters (whether or not they live within the city limits).

Like this: “Why is it so bumpy?” a colonial-era woman asks of a strange new dessert. “I don’t know,” said the man accompanying her. “It’s a bumpy cake.”

Or this: “They’re closing the streetcar line we take to work,” complains a World War II riveter Rosie. “We are the Motor City! », replies his factory colleague. “We are going to have the best bus system in the world!

Ba-dum-bum. And that’s not even mentioning the Detroit Lions curse part.

A collaborative project involving 18 independent filmmakers, 12 songs, two writers and a venerable local comedy institution, “The Detroit Musical Movie” debuts this weekend with three screenings at the Planet Ant Theater in Hamtramck.

There will be a preview on Friday, a world premiere on Saturday, and a screening on Sunday, March 13 for 313 Day, as the annual appreciation day is known in the Motor City.

Created by Shawn Handlon and Mikey Brown, “The Detroit Musical Movie” is a film adaptation of their 2010 satirical stage production, “The Detroit Musical.” The show was revived in 2017 to inaugurate the new Ant Hall at Planet Ant, the well-known nonprofit arts group and comedy hub, and again in 2019.

Originally conceived by Handlon and Brown as a series of sketches covering key points in the city’s history, it evolved into the saga of the fictional LaMerde family (the name is taken from French slang for feces) and how various members appear throughout Detroit’s history. from 1701 to the present day.

Britta Spitzer, left, director Carrie LeZotte and RJ Cach prepare to film a segment for "The Detroit Musical Movie" on site in Franklin.

The LaMerdes are still here – and still, essentially, shit bad luck – when significant events occur, from the great fire of 1805 that destroyed the city to the birth of the automobile industry.

“We chose this name because the LaMerdes over time, they missed something,” says Handlon. “They were going to name Main Street LaMerde after the Great Fire until (Augustus) Woodward came along and was like, ‘Look at that big plan!’ Or one of the LaMerdes when the automobile industry was born invested everything in a steam engine, and then Henry Ford comes along and the internal combustion engine takes off. So they always get the wrong end of the stick.”

The story behind the making of “The Detroit Musical Movie” involves a rather LaMerde-esque twist of fate that worked out well in the end.

Continued:For a generation of Detroit actors, the death of bar owner Hamtramck marks the end of an era

Planet Ant received funding for a 2020 production of the popular stage version from Michigan Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The final dress rehearsal was on March 12, 2020. Then the next morning, the day the show opened, the show was canceled following the COVID-19 outbreaks in Michigan.

Last summer, as Planet Ant began to consider reopening after the pandemic shutdown, the idea was born to use the grant money to turn the musical into a movie-wide effort. the community. With Michigan Humanities on board for change, a call has gone out for local filmmakers and actors to join “The Detroit Musical Movie” project.

Filming took place in September and October 2021 with a budget of $30,000, including $15,000 from Michigan Humanities and an equivalent amount raised through donations. In movie terms, it’s shoestring budget – if you’re talking about a tiny little doll shoe.

Angelita Rodriguez, left, Jaime Rodriguez, Luis Rico and Sheldon Fair appear in a segment of "The Detroit Musical Movie" led by JC Carroll on the negotiations for the British purchase of Hog Island (known today as Belle Isle).

But according to Handlon, if anyone could make the budget work, it’s independent filmmakers with their expertise in finding inexpensive solutions to obstacles. The 18 directors found ways to shoot their chapters — there are 24 in all — that covered Detroit’s 320-year span without breaking the extremely modest bank.

The directors also had the artistic freedom to employ a different style. One of the segments of the film is made with puppets. Another uses animation. Even the location shoots tried some unexpected tactics. For a vignette set in the 1760s as the British come to town, filmmaker Carrie LeZotte used playground equipment in downtown Franklin to replace a stagecoach.

“The variety makes it a more interesting viewing experience for audiences,” says Handlon, who praises all of the filmmakers for their ingenuity.

Kelly Rossi, fron, and Paris Mason play Rosie the Riveter factory workers reacting to the end of World War II in a segment of "The Detroit Musical Movie" directed by Dan Tice.

Handlon, a Second City Detroit alum and former artistic director of Planet Ant, and Brown, founding member of Planet Ant and award-winning local musician, have teamed up for “The Detroit Musical.” Handlen handled the script, while Brown did the score. The two have contributed lyrics to songs like “Coney Wars” and “1701 (Detroit A Go-Go),” which sometimes use their satirical side to poke fun at uncomfortable truths.

For example, “Livonia,” an ode to suburban beauty, was written for a white couple to sing in order to blur the lack of diversity there. “They always manage to say it’s because everyone is white, but then they change at the last second,” Handlon explains.

Another track, “Great Day to Be a Woman” – performed by the Rosie the Riveter characters who helped turn Detroit into the arsenal of democracy in the 1940s – incorrectly predicts that women will immediately be treated with more of respect and equality, a goal that still needs to be perfected. .

Handlon and Brown have tweaked and refined the show over the years. According to Handlon, the film ends with a new song, “Rising from the Ashes”. It’s a nod to the city’s motto: “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus”, translated into English as “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.”

In an allegory of the city and the suburbs, the song is about a couple who have broken up and want to get back together, Handlon says. Only now things will have to be different for the relationship to work.

Handlon says “Rising from the Ashes” reflects some of the positive changes that were emerging in the city before the pandemic, including greater recognition domestically and around the world for Detroit as an artistic and cultural force.

Gregg Horvath, who helped with camera work on a 1760 segment of '

LeZotte says “The Detroit Musical Movie” was a chance to go in a completely different cinematic direction. The documentary filmmaker had never shot a musical number, let alone comedic.

“The whole project just gave me a chance to take a risk and do something that I had never done before. It was so much fun,” she says. “It’s one of the things that happened as a result of COVID that made people think creatively. I think (the whole team) adapted it in a very inventive and great way.

In addition to screenings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Planet Ant will take the weekend of the premiere into deeper territory with a panel discussion after Saturday night’s show. It will feature Handlon and Brown, as well as Jeanette Pierce, founder of the City Institute and the Detroit Experience Factory, and Eric Thomas, chief storyteller for the city of Detroit.

In the "Hamtramck" part of "The Detroit Musical Movie" directed and hosted by Annette DeLorean, there is a song about convincing the people of Hamtramck to vote to incorporate as a town in 1922.

Additionally, there will be a Sunday matinee screening of two short LeZotte documentaries: “Regional Roots: The Birth and Evolution of Detroit and Its People” and “Lean, Mean & Green,” inspired by the former Free Press writer. , John Gallagher’s book “Reimagining Detroit”.

Handlon, who grew up in St. Clair Shores, says he fell in love with Detroit while a student at Wayne State University in the late 1980s, long before the city’s post-bankruptcy resurgence. With “The Detroit Musical Movie”, he celebrates the city through the good times and the bad, the ups and downs of the road.

And when those bumps happen, don’t forget to eat bumpy cake.

Puppets sing about what makes Livonia a great place to live in a segment of "The Detroit Musical Movie" directed by Craig Draheim of Bloodhound Pix.

Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at jhinds@freepress.com.

“The Detroit Musical Movie”

Ant Hall at Planet Ant Theater

2320 Caniff, Hamtramck

8 p.m. Fri.

Preview for production members and the Planet Ant community

8 p.m. Sat.

World premiere (preceded by a cocktail at 7 p.m. and a post-film round table)

4 p.m. Sun.

Detroit Documentaries, a matinee screening of two short documentaries by Carrie LeZotte (who also directed a segment of “The Detroit Musical Movie”)

7 p.m. Sun.

‘The Detroit Musical Movie’ encore screening for 313 Day

Tickets are $10 for each of the four screenings

For tickets and information, go to the Planet Ant website (planetant.com/detroitmusicalmovie).