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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

One of the many things that remain unknown about the title character at the end of Lovelace: A Rock Opera is the spark of inspiration that prompted Linda Susan Boreman to choose “Lovelace” as her adopted stage last name. In the history of American adult marketing, “Linda Lovelace” has to be one of the most successful and enduring brands ever created.

Seven years after her death in 2002 and 37 years after the film Deep Throat made her a celebrity; Linda Lovelace remains an enigmatic icon. The Internet Movie Database calls her the most famous porn star of all time. Lovelace's autobiography, Ordeal, is still in print, a film bio-pic starring Rose McGowan is said to be in the works, and last fall Los Angeles saw the world premiere of Lovelace: A Rock Opera.

Two quick disclaimers about this show, which has become a modest hit at the Hayworth Theatre...Number One: there's no on-stage sex acts, not even any nudity in Lovelace: A Rock Opera. And if you're still interested, Number Two: there's very little that's operatic about Lovelace: A Rock Opera. Yes, it is entirely sung-through, but it's really just a rock musical just without any spoken dialog.

The music was written by two women from L.A. Rock Bands of years past: Anna Waronker of That Dog and Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go's. The program lists 41 songs that fly by in the shows 90 minutes but the main problem is that none of these tunes (or their lyrics) really stick in your ear or elicit a particular mood or emotion. During too much of Lovelace: A Rock Opera, scenes and songs unfold in a musical idiom that feels both unspecific and unvaried. The lyrics slouch towards clichés: well-worn tropes like “breaking chains” or “being who I want to be” are typical of the language Linda uses to express herself in song. While the real Linda may not have been have been eloquent — no one's asking for sophisticated wordplay on the order of Sondheim here — what's missing in the Lovelace character (and the show as a whole) is a distinct voice.

Now, the real Linda's pharynx was not famous for its singing; however, the actress who plays Lovelace, her throat boasts a sturdy set of vocal chords. Katrina Lenk is the best thing about this production. Her voice cuts through the recorded score and articulates both the meaning and emotion of the lyrics — at least as much as the writing allows. Lenk also has the right physicality. She is able to look both attractive and plain, also her posture effectively conveys both Lovelace's sexiness and her vulnerability.

Almost as strong is Jimmy Swan who plays Chuck Traynor, Linda's abusive husband/business manager/pimp. The part seems to have been written for Axle Rose, but as he was unavailable, Swan steps in and wails away in a screeching rock falsetto. He is tall and imposing and makes the domination of his wife — and her fearful submission — feel real. To my ears though, much of his music sounds more like the 1980's rather than the early seventies—a problem throughout the show, but especially for this character. If any man was ever stuck in the 1970's it was Traynor, who married and divorced both Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers.

Ultimately, Lovelace: A Rock Opera disappoints not because it is too bold or raunchy, but rather that it's not daring enough. It never takes a stand — is Linda a hero or a fool? Lovelace: A Rock Opera never gets underneath the flesh of its character. In the wake of the popular Jerry Springer: The Opera and recently announced “Anna Nicole Smith Opera,” simply making a tawdry celebrity sing is not enough. The great operas, or even rock musicals, go much deeper than the throat.

Lovelace: A Rock Opera runs through March 1 at the Hayworth Theatre.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.

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