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