'Kansas City Choir Boy': Theater Review
Courtney Love stars in this theatrical song cycle staged in a highly intimate off-Broadway space as part of the Prototype festival
The Prototype festival of opera and musical theater has been increasingly buzzed-about since its inception two years ago, but the New York event's third edition has hit the publicity mother lode with Todd Almond's theatricalized song cycle Kansas City Choir Boy. The composer's co-star in the piece is Courtney Love, which no doubt accounts for why the production was fully sold-out within minutes of tickets going on sale.
It's indeed startling to see the 50-year-old rocker with no shortage of personal baggage appearing in a small basement theater seating approximately 80. The piece is performed in the round, in a space so intimate that one can actually smell the performer as she makes her way through the audience (she wears a lot of perfume).
Love's presence brings an undeniable charge to the proceedings, which concern a Midwestern musician (Almond) who learns through a television news broadcast that his former girlfriend, Athena (Love), has been murdered, years after decamping to New York City in pursuit of stardom.
The ensuing flashback depicts the relationship, albeit in a highly fragmented, near-plotless fashion. Accompanying the lead performers are a sextet of young female singing and dancing "Sirens," as well as a string quartet who periodically leave their seats to join in on the highly choreographed action.
Although diffuse in its impact, the work features a melodic, electronica-tinged pop/rock score, generally more impressive musically than for its often abstract lyrics. Almond displays a strong tenor, while Love, in lean rock-star shape, sounds more gravelly than ever, as if she's been taking lessons from Bob Dylan's vocal coach.
But she's certainly a compelling, ethereal presence, at one point whipping off her shirt to reveal a black bra and later clad in a gorgeous black gown designed by Zac Posen. Effortlessly conveying both a youthful, ingénue-like quality and a harder edge that suggests her character's dissipation, she's good enough to make one wish she had given more attention to her acting career, which included a Golden Globe-nominated screen turn in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
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Performed on a tiny stage dominated by an endlessly variable LED light display, the immersive piece is fluidly staged by Kevin Newbury with a vivid theatricality that almost, if not quite, makes up for its slightness. Running a mere 45 minutes or so, the show fails to make much of a cumulative impact, even if it has arresting moments.
The work, based on a real incident from the composer's life and supposedly featuring elements borrowed from The Odyssey — though you'll be hard-pressed to recognize them — is being described as a "theatricalized concept album." That's as good a description as any, but it would seem to need more fleshing out and greater narrative thrust if it's to find a future life onstage. In the meantime, lucky audiences get to enjoy the unique experience of being just a few feet away from the charismatic rock icon as she spreads her artistic wings.
Cast: Todd Almond, Courtney Love
Music and Lyrics: Todd Almond
Director: Kevin Newbury
Choreographer: Sam Pinkleton
Musical director: David Bloom
Set designers: Victoria "Vita" Tzykun, Clark Parkan
Costume designer: Paul Carey, Zac Posen
Lighting designer: D.M. Wood
Video & projection designer: Darrel Maloney
Sound designer: Brandon Wolcott
Presented by Prototype