‘Pennies from Kevyn’: Detroit bankruptcy goes musical

‘Pennies from Kevyn’: Detroit bankruptcy goes musical

Detroit’s Chapter 9 filing is, really, a serious topic.

But an area singing troupe has taken inspiration from the characters, issues and actions and created musical parody. Think: “Pennies from Heaven” reworked as “Pennies from Kevyn” as in Orr, the city’s emergency manager.

Bondholders will only get…Pennies from Kevyn

Workers will do poorer yet…Pennies from Kevyn

Protesters block traffic so they can condemn

This guy’s appointment as an EFM…

…and then there’s “You Gotta Sell Art,” with the familiar melody from the Damn Yankees musical number:

You gotta sell art

Every masterpiece and part

‘Cause once you wind up in Chapter Nine

You’re out of time, so better start…

[sc_embed_player fileurl="http://www.nextchapterdetroit.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/gotta-sell-art-1.mp3"] Play “You Gotta Sell Art” 

A (Habeas) Chorus Line

It’s what A (Habeas) Chorus Line has done for decades: translating local, national and international headlines and trends into music and laughter. Past subjects have included Geoffrey Fieger, the Michigan Militia, Martha Stewart, Kwame, Hillary, Interstate 696, eBay, Starbucks, Viagra…and plenty more. Some are original musical numbers, others are take-offs on well-known tunes.

“Most of the time I’m looking for parodies,” says Justin Klimko, the group’s lyricist and the president of Butzel Long law firm. “(Audiences) don’t mind an original song or two from time to time, but they don’t get into it in the same way because they don’t recognize the melody.”

Since it formed in 1992 for what was supposed to be a one-time gig, A (Habeas) Chorus Line has performed 150 shows around the state and nationally to audiences ranging from legal and trade groups to religious institutions to chambers of commerce. This weekend, they have a fundraiser performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Pierce Middle School, 15430 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Park. Tickets are $20.

The nine members of the group are all lawyers except for retired federal case manager Sara Fischer Hodges, who, ironically worked for both Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Judge Gerald Rosen, both the chief U.S. District judge in Eastern Michigan and the mediator in Detroit’s case.

“I feel absolutely confident in saying the city couldn’t be in better hands during this difficult time,” Fischer Hodges says of her former bosses. “They are brilliant jurists and really good, honest human beings.”

None of the (Habeas) Chorus Line members have any current role with Detroit’s bankruptcy … outside of poking a bit of fun at some of the players and the process through their musical numbers.

“We say what most people are thinking – just in a really humorous way.  We don’t cross the line – but sometimes we do walk the tightrope,” Fischer says.

Translating the city’s financial fallout into humor requires a certain skill, admits the group’s musical director James Robb, who is also the associate dean for external affairs and senior counsel at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

“For a group that works in parody and satire, Detroit is a very rich environment,” Robb says “What makes us especially good is that we do have a local take on things, a local perspective.”

That comes through in “Belle Isle” set to the tune of “BALI HA’I” from South Pacific:

…Belle Isle will whisper “I’m not doing so great

Please lease me, your special island, To the state, to the state

“Though I’ve always been a fighter, My future’s looking dark

Please allow Governor Snyder, To make me a state park”

Belle Isle, Belle Isle, Belle Isle!

A (Habeas) Chorus Line’s current “play list” doesn’t just lambaste Detroit, though. “There are all kinds of politicians and entertainers saying and doing stupid things,” Robb says. Indeed Edward Snowden, Oprah and Disney World are all, well, targets in the Saturday show.

And just because A (Habeas) Chorus Line’s performers are all veterans of Michigan’s courtrooms doesn’t mean the legal profession is spared from the fun. A new number this year is “What a Difference Jones Day Makes” set to Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Jones Day, of course, is Orr’s former law firm and the group with the largest share of the city’s legal contracts for the bankruptcy process.

The parody goes:

What a difference Jones Day makes

Charging thousands of hours

It’s quite clear where the power

In the city now rests

Our yesterday seemed fine, dear

Today it’s Chapter Nine, dear

Revenues in decline, dear

While politicians resign

What a difference Jones Day makes.

“There are some things you just can’t make fun of, but bankruptcy is not one of them” Klimko says.

At least for a few bars, A (Habeas) Chorus Line makes Detroit’s Chapter 9 situation harmonious.

-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

@WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org