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"So I looked at the article," David continues, "and it was fascinating because it was about this torch singer, Madi Comfort. She appeared in the film-noir Kiss Me Deadly, she's in the nightclub scene. She sings this song, 'I'd Rather Have the Blues Than What I Got,' and she also sang with Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra. Duke Ellington wrote Satin Doll about her and for her."
The 2010 article claimed that Comfort, who died in 2003 and who belonged to one of the first black families in Whittier, had a connection with the Black Dahlia: She was a girlfriend of George Hodel, the mysterious Hollywood STD doctor (and friend of surrealist Man Ray) identified as one of the prime suspects in the crime. "She was the last woman to be seen with him before he left the country and she was interrogated by the police about her connection with him. According to the article, on her deathbed she made this revelation that she always knew that George Hodel was the murderer. She had this dark secret she had to get off her chest. And I thought, 'This is it! This is like gold for me. I'm gonna take this — this is the dramatic element.' "
David then refashioned his 2008 song cycle into a musical play, The Chanteuse and the Devil's Muse, which was supposed to premiere at the Million Dollar Theater downtown this week, before permit and production issues forced a rescheduling to later this year.
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"The scenes in the play are Madi's police interrogation by this guy, the cop. There's maybe two lines on record from the actual interrogation, but I let my mind go with it and I just imagined what the actual interrogation was. And also wrote it in such a way that each section would lead into one of the songs. When the songs were originally written I didn't even know about Madi."
His approach was enormously influenced by Moore, who famously tackled a similar subject (the Jack the Ripper murders) in his epic comic book tour-de-force From Hell. "Alan is always there, like, in the back of my head," David says, "exerting an influence as to the integrity of the writing and how you can use your imagination and just go to places that are so unexpected and interesting and it becomes a psychic investigation of the subject."
This mediumistic approach allowed David to venture a solution to the Black Dahlia mystery. "In my play, Madi does make a revelation that it was Hodel, but also that he had an accomplice, and who it is, that's my own revelation and I don't wanna give that away because it's a real twist in the ending. The cop is interrogating her and she goes into a heightened reality and walks toward the front of the stage and she talks about appearing in Kiss Me Deadly years later and how she sang 'I'd Rather Have the Blues Than What I Got.' Those lyrics take on a different meaning."
"There's a really wonderful butoh performer, Vangeline, and she plays the ghost of Elizabeth Short, newly dead. And she's dead but she doesn't realize it." The Poubelle Twins, from the Velvet Hammer burlesque troupe, portray Short's disembodied head, torso and limbs.
"I noticed there's quite a lot of German-style cabaret things. So many things aligned with burlesque going on around town," David says, bringing his very Los Angeles noir all back to Weimar, home of the original Bauhaus. "It's an interesting point of reference. There's a certain decadence to L.A., and in the current political/financial climate I think you can draw comparisons to a degree to Weimar, before the war. And that creates this particular kind of art that's flying in the face of that, but also referring to it, and it's sort of rhapsodizing the decadence as well as being critical of the political climate. Especially with the way the financial situation is, the parallels are kind of interesting."
Silver for Gold: The Odyssey of Edie Sedgwick will be revived in an expanded version at REDCAT in September. The Chanteuse and the Devil's Muse is scheduled to premiere Nov. 12 at the Million Dollar Theater.