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Unlikely, mesmerizing rock opera

October 31, 2008|David C. Nichols | Nichols is a freelance writer.

It's anyone's guess whether "Lovelace: A Rock Opera," Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's urgent, tuneful elegy for the star of "Deep Throat," can rival that porn landmark's reach. However, we are undeniably watching something original, at once refined and electrifying.

This sense of discovery drives "Lovelace," based on a concept by Jeffery Leonard Bowman, who supplied some of the lyrics. Schematically, it echoes many a popera predecessor -- "Tommy," "Blood Brothers," pick a Lloyd Webber. Yet under Ken Sawyer's brilliant direction, the tale of Linda Boreman (the astonishing Katrina Lenk), from pimped-out spouse to adult industry superstar (under the Linda Lovelace screen name) to anti-porn advocate, carries its own darkly empathetic energy.

Beginning with historical images from 1969 projected on designer Joel Daavid's fragmented set, the libretto frames "Lovelace" in recollections from Lindsay (Sonya Bender), Linda's grown daughter. While a Greek chorus supplies hieratic interjections, Mrs. Boreman (Kendra Smith, in for Whitney Allen) tricks Linda into giving up her illegitimate child.

The narrative shifts to New Jersey and Chuck Traynor (an imposing Jimmy Swan), Linda's abusive first husband, who forces her into prostitution, drugs and eventually "Deep Throat," which makes Linda Lovelace a household name.

Throughout, "Lovelace" operates in an Expressionist whirl -- silhouetted sex tableaux, waitresses-turned-strippers before our eyes, a campy "Silicone Injection" sequence, ad infinitum. Propelled by Waronker and Caffey's restless, accomplished score, the show takes a nonjudgmental attitude toward porn and an unyielding stance on female exploitation. Even with canned accompaniment, it's remarkable how well it works.

Swan's creepy, clarion-voiced Traynor, Josh Greene's droll Harry Reems and Alan Palmer's preening Gerard Damiano are standouts amid an ace cast. But it's finally all about Lenk's heroine, and her raw yet potent singing and vast emotional range are immensely affecting. As her colleagues envelop her in David Wayne's musical staging, Lenk's vital commitment mirrors that of "Lovelace's" creators, and centers this cautionary theatrical cantata.


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