The life of pioneering porn star Linda Lovelace seems predestined for operatic treatment. A small-town girl with a troubled childhood Linda Boreman moved to the Big City, got caught up in abusive relationship, and in a relatively brief time became the star of what’s said to be the most profitable film of all time. That the 1972 film — “Deep Throat” — was the first hard-core pornographic feature to break through to a mainstream audience, made Lovelace’s name as well known as the film’s title, a euphemism for fellatio that could be used in mainstream media
Now, that’s as melodramatic as “Carmen,” or “Evita.”
Following a gestation period of six years or so, “Lovelace A Rock Opera” has opened its first official run, at the Hayworth Theater near MacArthur Park in Los Angeles under the imaginative direction of Ken Sawyer.
Many hands have been involved in writing the book, words and music, though the final official credit goes to Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey, with Jeffrey Bowman credited with the original concept (i.e., staging it as a continues piece of music) plus some lyrics. Sisters-in-law, Caffey and Waronker are long-standing members of the Los Angeles rock community, performing with the Go-Gos and that dog, respectively.
Their own background notwithstanding, the trio have created a score that’s less “rock and roll” than “rock,” with a big bow in the direction of Broadway and London’s West End — touchstones (as least to my ears) include The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away,” Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (written by Jim Steinman), and “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” The pre-recorded musical tracks are excellent (it would have been nice to credit the musicians), and range from acoustic guitar to full-on bombast that is as operatic as it is rock.
What the score lacks, at least to my ears, is a breakthrough signature song – a “Pinball Wizerd,” or “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” While fine, varied and certainly dramatically serviceable, the songs go by too quickly to make much of a lasting impression.
The book is linear, beginning with Boreman’s birth and ending (in a projected footnote after the dramatic climax) with her death in a 2002 automobile accident. There are no flashbacks or other digressions. While interesting as such devices might be dramatically, their absence helps keep the show moving quickly through its 90 uninterrupted minutes.
Some, including the creators, might look at “Lovelace” as (among other things) a feminist tract, but it’s more complicated than that. Borman/Lovelace is (at least according to her own account and the show’s script) physically abused and otherwise taken advantage of, but at crucial times she seems perfectly willing to go along with whatever her husband, Chuck Traynor (real names are used for all the principal characters), proposes. Blame that (if “blame” is the word) on blind love, ambition, or childhood mistreatment, as you desire.
My own feeling is that the whole situation is unclear — perhaps due to the locomotive pace of the show. Traynor, for instance, threatens his wife and even beats her when she shows no sign of reluctance to comply with his program. Why? (Following his divorce from Boreman, he married and guided the career of another ‘70s porn star, Marilyn Chambers, with far less (if any) rumor of domestic instability). What explains the inconsistency? That may be another show, or at least another book, but perhaps a little more attention might be given to his motivation. Maybe, though, he was just a jerk. It happens.
Performances last Saturday night (Valentine’s Day – it seemed appropriate) were very strong, with Katrina Lenk navigating Borman’s transition to Lovelace flawlessly, and Jimmy Swan (as Traynor) a natural for the musical theater stage, even though his background is as a rock singer.
As hairdresser-turned-director Gerard Damiano and Lovelace’s co-star, Harry Reems, Alan Palmer and Josh Greene supply welcome comic relief, difficult though it might be to think of Reems as Greene plays him – more Rip Taylor than, say, fellow Golden Age porn star Jerry Butler. And several other capable players perform, mostly in multiple roles.
There’s skin, if not nudity, in “Lovelace,” and there’s some simulated (if not stimulating) sex, as befits the subject. So it’s probably not first-date material, or something to bring your grandmother to. But the show’s very nicely done, a lot of fun, and definitely recommended to anyone who finds the idea interesting.