The lights dim and the upstage screen is filled with image after image—Richard Nixon, protests against the Vietnam war, uniformed soldiers, Woodstock, Kent State, the Manson girls, John and Yoko, the first man on the moon…

The year is 1969 and Linda Boreman is having sex for the first time, in a Cutlass Supreme. 

Only three years later, Linda will achieve international stardom (of a kind) as Linda Lovelace, the star of Deep Throat, the first ever full-length porno movie and (at an over $1 billion gross), the most financially successful XXX flick of all time.

Linda didn’t make a dime off the movie.

Linda Lovelace (1949-2002) is now the central figure of Lovelace A Rock Opera, a stunning new piece of dramatic musical theater getting its world premiere run at the Hayworth Theatre under the inspired direction of Ken Sawyer.

With book, music, and lyrics by Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey, Lovelace more than merits the “A Rock Opera” in its title.  Waronker fronted the 90s rock group that dog (small “t” and “d” deliberate) and Caffey was a member of the legendary 80s girl band The Go-Go’s (and wrote one of their biggest hits, “We Got The Beat”).  Lovelace The Rock Opera has plenty of beat, and plenty of volume, a rock opera that truly is rock (not some Broadway composer’s idea of rock).

Embodying Linda is the divine Katrina Lenk, whose innocent face and powerful pipes (with just the slightest vulnerable crack in her voice) make her the perfect choice for the role.

We see Linda through the eyes of her adult daughter Lindsay (Sonya Bender), who remains an onstage observer throughout most of the show’s 90 minutes.  

After giving birth to her first child at age 20, Linda is forced by her mother to give the baby away. “You’ll thank me one day,” sings Mom (Whitney Allen), but Linda isn’t hearing any of this. She packs her bags and soon is surrounded by black-lace-clad lap dancers at “Chuck Traynor’s Place” (“where the only star is you”). “I’ll be your everything,” Linda sings to the seedy Chuck (Jimmy Swan).  “I’ll help you make all your dreams come true.”

Flowers in her hair and in love with love, Miss (Almost) Purity weds Mr. (Totally) Sleaze, who soon after their wedding vows tells her (in song), “If you don’t do what I say, I’ll fucking kill you.”  What he tells her to do is to have sex with men, many men, and though the tableau of Lenk surrounded by men in black caressing her face and neck is a striking, even beautiful one (thanks to Joel Daavid’s dramatic lighting), for Linda it is like gang rape. “Is this what it feels like to die?” she belts out plaintively.

Mom will hear nothing of Linda’s pleas to come back home.  “You took vows you cannot break,” she sings, and when Traynor puts a dog collar and leash around Linda’s neck and tells her, “No other man will have you after what you’ve been,” the young woman’s low self-esteem won’t let her believe otherwise.

Soon (in a comically nightmarish scene) Linda undergoes silicone injections in order to become a featured performer in Traynor’s girl-on-girl sex shows, seen in silhouette and lit by Daavid with flashing strobes.

Linda’s path then crosses that of Gerard Damiano (Alan Palmer), hairdresser turned “filmmaker” who, in a burst of inspiration, imagines a young woman whose “clit is in her head” and Deep Throat (and porn history) is born.  

Linda’s costar is of course the prolific porn star Harry Reams (Josh Greene) who charms her with the suitably titled “Let’s Fuck.”  (“I say ‘Let’s,’ you say ‘fuck.’  Open wide cause here we go.”)

Lovelace The Rock Opera goes on to deal with the domestic violence that was part and parcel of Linda’s marriage to Chuck (“That should wipe the smile right off your face”), the mob’s involvement with Deep Throat, the anti-porn protesters who picketed its screenings, Linda’s infatuation with Harry, and the “Overnight Sensation” she became. Then came the drugs, the degradation, and Linda’s eventual escape from Damiano’s clutches, only to be reviled by radical feminist Susan Brownmiller (Jill Marie Burke) in “Take Back The Night,” and honored in the rock opera which bears her name.

Matching the incandescent Lenk every step of the way is rock singer Swan, her mirror opposite and the embodiment of sleaze as hubby Chuck. When the two duet in “You Love Me,” “Save It For Your Prayers,” “Till Death Do Us Part,” and “Who Do You Think You Are,” the electricity is palpable.

The entire cast, which also includes Curt Bonnem, Rachel Cavenaugh, Milan Cronovich, and Kelly Devoto, could not be better, or better cast.  L.A. audiences are unlikely to see eleven more powerful singers all on stage at once for quite some time to come. They move as well (good?) as they look thanks to David Wayne’s inventive musical staging.

Waronker and Caffey’s lyrics make the entirely sung-through Lovelace A Rock Opera’s plot so easy to follow that indeed no spoken dialog is necessary.  The duo’s melodies embody a gamut of styles, all the while never losing their hard rock sensibility.

Master production designer Daavid not only created Lovelace A Rock Opera’s striking lighting but show’s set design as well, a set which utilizes every inch of the Hayworth stage, the theater’s dark walls serving as the perfect backdrop for Linda’s dingy dressing room, her mother’s shoddy living room, and the seedy sound stages where Linda made her first and only hardcore flick. Credit is also due to Jon Krop’s graphic design and illustrations.

Traci McWain’s costumes merit snaps, from teenage Linda’s baby doll dress to the slinky red gown which she dons upon gaining stardom to the sexy black lingerie worn by the show’s porn starlets.  Special kudos for sleazeball Traynor’s polyester duds, his tighter-than-skin-tight patterned shirts practically screaming “pimp.”

Musical directors Waronker and Caffey’s prerecorded tracks (performed by an unbilled band) are rock concert ready, however those like myself unaccustomed the nearly excruciating volume at which they are played are advised to bring cotton.  (Steve Norton is the show’s sound engineer.)

Other than my desire to turn down the volume a tad or two, Lovelace A Rock Opera proves an exhilarating roller-coaster ride along the rocky road to fame (and sadly no fortune) of a woman who was much more than just a legend in porn.  

Long live Linda! 

The Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
November 2, 2008

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