“Lovelace: A Rock Opera”

Lovelace: A Rock Opera
Hayworth Theatre



It’s one thing to develop a musical around the lives of Janis Joplin or the Four Seasons, but then what wonderful pre-packaged source material is available to enhance and guarantee a shelf life for such an effort. But when writer Jeffery Leonard Bowman decided to create a musical biography based on the meteoric rise and fall of 70s porn goddess Linda Lovelace, the fact that he knew nothing about writing songs didn’t deter him for a minute. Luckily for us all, Bowman was introduced to Anna Waronker of That Dog and Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Gos (composer of “We Got the Beat”), who took his original concept and flew with it. Six years later, the result is Lovelace: A Rock Opera, now world premiering at the Hayworth.

In 1972, Deep Throat made its debut in the United States, instantly becoming the first mainstream pornographic movie, still considered today the quintessential adult film of all time and surely the most profitable. The country’s elite, from Truman Capote to Jackie Kennedy to Johnny Carson, flocked to “respectable” theaters to see this history-making film while its star, a fascinatingly non-gaggingly gifted unknown Bronx cop’s kid born Linda Susan Boreman, became an overnight sensation under her new stage moniker: Linda Lovelace.

By all accounts at the time, Lovelace was on top of the world, a liberated woman taking full advantage of the sexual revolution and pleased to serve as its poster child. But only a few years later, she began telling a different story, one of incredible abuse and even imprisonment at the hands of her entrepreneur husband, Chuck Traynor. Finally escaping his clutches, she was embraced by the feminist movement and its anti-porn crusade, even going on to testify numerous times in front of the U.S. Senate. Married, divorced and pleased to finally be able to live her life and raise her two children in relative obscurity, Lovelace died from internal injuries following a car crash in Colorado in 2002 at age 53.

Lovelace: A Rock Opera is an ambitious project but, considering Waronker and Caffey’s indelible score and blessed with the ever-imaginative staging of director Ken Sawyer, it should be on its way to becoming a great success. It’s not just one of those And-Then-He-Wrote kinda musicals, but instead delves headfirst (no pun intended) into the psychological depths of Lovelace’s mindset and how she was manipulated all of her life, first by a strict monster of a mother (Whitney Allen), then by her greedily ruthless husband-pimp Chuck Traynor (Jimmy Swan).


As the title character Katrina Lenk is truly amazing—at times unfiltered, ruthless and caustic, yet more often sweetly vulnerable and heartbreaking, yet always overwhelming sexy. Her vocals tear at your heart, especially the haunting “I’ve Done Things I Would Never Do,” and her grasp of the swirling maelstrom of instant gratification and the resulting horrors her career and lovelife afforded Lovelace is the heart of this production. Swan is suitably smarmy as Traynor, his rocker vocals tearing at the score with a vengeance, and Josh Greene is also a standout (again, no pun intended) as Lovelace’s plus-size Deep Throat costar Harry Reams.

The supporting cast is totally game and obviously talented, but perhaps what’s missing most here is a little more Lovelace-inspired courage from the show’s creators and cast, since what could have been jarringly raw and often wincingly funny ensemble numbers, as staged by David Wayne, just miss their mark.

The next time Lovelace is mounted (apologies again), I would love to see it performed in an adults-only venue with real porn actors with some former musical training (before settling on their bolder and probably far more lucrative career choice?) forming the ensemble. As gifted as some of the valiant folks cast here may be, often the characters’ prurient nature and the suggestive disposition of their movements seem a tad uncomfortable for the folks cast here, who even occasionally rush through without ever really looking all that comfortable.

This CliffsNotes approach to this exceptional material and the knockout score by Waronker and Caffey is the only disappointment in Lovelace: A Rock Opera’s first worthy and otherwise memorable incarnation, as it would be a far better tribute to Lovelace herself—and to the sexual freedom of the 70s that started so good and turned so sour—to lose their own inhibitions and really go for it.

Lovelace: A Rock Opera has been extended through Feb. 1 at the Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Bl., Los Angeles; for tickets, call 323.960.4442. Or visit www.thehayworth.com

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com