It is hard to describe the one-hour theater concept album that opened Sunday at the Kirk Douglas Theater in the Los Angeles area. The rock opera, music-theater piece loosely based on The Odyssey is not great, but Kansas City Choir Boy is fascinating because of its female lead and focal point – Courtney Love.
Many forget that the widow of Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), lead singer of Hole, and star of countless gossip headlines and rehabs was an actress. Reportedly sober for 8 years, Love’s female lead role in Kansas City Choir Boy, which premiered in New York and played in Boston before its West Coast debut this week, lets her show her singing and acting chops while reminding people that she has an ethereal presence that makes one what to watch her.
Todd Almond, who wrote the music and lyrics, plays the male lead. Those expecting a repeat experience like Almond’s sweet musical Girlfriend that played the Kirk Douglas this summer may be disappointed. Those wanting to see Love will not be.
Kansas City Choir Boy is weak on narrative. However, the intimate, immersive staging involves the audience in the tale about a Kansas City boy and his love who is drawn to the bright lights and siren song of the big Apple.
The show opens with Almond’s unnamed singer-songwriter working on his music via his laptop with a television in the background. A news story catches his eye about a local girl (Love) found dead in New York City. Reeling, he flashed back to his history with the dead woman, named Athena, from their finding love as teenagers, getting married, and eventually splitting up when she leaves him behind for the “bright lights, big city” life. He tries to follow her and reconnect, but the sirens and limelight have seduced her.
From the minute Love joins Almond onstage in his memories, she is captivating and becomes the focal point for the Kansas City Choir Boy audience. Whether in a tank top, black bra or black Zac Posen ball gown, the 51-year-old Love’s fascinating tall presence, undeniable charisma and décolletage are in viewers’ sites. She is surprisingly believable as the love interest of the 38-year-old Almond.
Love attacks her alternative-rock numbers with a gravelly voice reminiscent of Marianne Faithfull. The singing is not strong, but effective and full of emotion.
Almond’s lyrics are largely forgettable, but the authenticity he conveys with every word – whether of first love or bewildered loss – is well delivered. There are times his singing seem overdone or the keyboard serves as a barrier to hide behind. But he is winning in the role even though he is cast in Love’s considerable shadow.
The sirens and wonderful string quartet weave between the audience, small stage and the sidelines. At first, it is interesting and well done. But later on, in jogging gear and other twists, the sirens become distracting (perhaps that pun is what Almond intended?).
The one-act show at the Kirk Douglas theatre is very short (about one hour). But Kansas City Choir Boy is entertaining and for Courtney Love fans, or those just curious after reading seeing her as the focal point of so many tabloid tales, she delivers a fascinating performance. The show will be there until Nov. 9, 2015.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Performance Oct. 18, 2015
Center Theatre Group: Kansas City Choir Boy
New York Times: ‘Kansas City Choir Boy,’ With Courtney Love and Todd Almond
New York Times: Courtney Love Prepares for ‘Kansas City Choir Boy’
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy of the Center Theatre Group