In case the first 22 chapters of Trapped in the Closet didn't make it clear, R. Kelly is in on the joke. In fact, he's laughing all the way to Broadway: as he debuted the latest installments of his epic opus last night at New York City's Landmark Sunshine Cinemas, the Pied Piper of R&B said a Broadway production of Trapped in the Closet is in the works.
The revelation came during a Q&A session that followed a screening of the next collection of singsong "hip-hopera" vignettes, which premieres this Friday on IFC. Taking the mic after the screening, Kellz admitted that he never thought his "silly" idea would snowball into a cultural force. "I'm just having a lot of fun," said Kelly, clad in a sharp tuxedo, red leather gloves and a suspected five-figure watch, peering at the audience from behind indoor sunglasses. "I don't have a job, so I sit in the studio all the time and think of stupid stuff to do. And this is just something stupid I've done that's been successful. I'm having a lot of fun with it."
Revealing that he has 85 chapters of the series locked away in the studio, Kelly picks up where he left off with the latest batch. Instead of leaning on the circular musical theme of the originals, he modulates genres, setting the dialogue against riffs on Blaxploitation, funk and light disco. The new chapters are sequenced to confessionals for a Maury-like talk show titled Out of the Closet with Larry, where all of the characters meet at the end.
In the latest eps, Chuck, ridden with "the package" (a not-so-subtle hat tip to HIV), is nowhere to be found. Instead, his lover Rufus attends a therapy session with wife Cathy, who forgives him and naively hopes to "work it out." Pimp Lucius begs Kelly's character Sylvester for some "racks" to keep his operation afloat, and later does the same with his parents – Rosie the Nosy Neighbor and Randolph – to no avail. Sylvester and Twan get roped into an altercation with a mob boss – also played by a shark-toothed Kelly – over a vaguely suspicious drug deal. Tina and Roxette come to verbal blows after the former declares her independence and sets out to find her baby's daddy, Twan.
Later, during the Q&A, Kelly thanked the cast in attendance and fielded pre-selected questions from an audience composed mostly of journalists. With a lit cigar in hand, the veteran crooner said the five-year lapse between lots was the product of laziness, but said that getting back into the swing was smooth. "It's not hard somehow. When you commit to something and have fun with it, it appreciates you, the gift, and it starts to help you out," he said. "It cheats through things for you and it kind of writes itself. I'm having so much fun with this thing. I'm so committed to it, it just happens. It just continues to happen. Every time I put the track on, I hear these new stories and new characters."
Kelly provided some bizarre insight into his mind maze, referring to himself as an "alien" in character as Sylvester and stating that his superpower of choice would be to "heal the world." He even sang a few times for the crowd: first in a "Bump N' Grind" duet with a front-row fan, second with a closing sing-along of his '90s smash "I Believe I Can Fly." And for those wondering whether the end of the saga is near, well, it's not.
"Trapped in the Closet is pretty much forever. I've got a leash on this thing now. I'm going to walk it," said Kelly. "I want you guys to know, I'm not going to leave you guys hanging five years again for the next chapter. . . . The next chapters that are coming [are] going to exceed every chapter that you've ever seen. I guarantee it."