Nellie Goes Noir

Nellie Goes Noir

The always unpredictable Nellie McKay applies her staggering musical talents to a new project The New York Times calls "brilliant, zany." In musical biography I Want To Live!, she takes on the role that won Susan Hayward an Oscar as the scheming, lying, fun gal Barbara Graham, the convicted murderer who was the third woman to die in the gas chamber in California at San Quentin in 1955.

L.A. WEEKLY: What inspired you to write a musical about Barbara Graham?

NELLIE MCKAY: Strangely, the title came first, then I watched the gripping, chilling movie with its sinuous score by Johnny Mandel, featuring a combo led by Gerry Mulligan -- it's very much an L.A. tale in that '50s, noirish style. Barbara didn't get a fair shake in life, but we try to give her one in our show.

Is it fun to play a bad girl?

Is it fun to read pulp fiction? Her life reads like a dime novel, so yes -- it's the best time I ever had pretending to be a lesbian! Barbara Graham actually had a girlfriend in prison, who later set her up and ratted her out -- she really did get shafted all the way around.

What's a highlight of the show for you?

The back-and-forth with the band -- they can play anything and they're natural criminals, too.

Will we see a side of you we haven't seen before?

We all have a dark side -- and it's kind of fun to explore stuff in performance you never would in real life -- you know, there but for fortune -- but this is Barbara's story.

Nellie McKay performs I Want to Live! at Catalina, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., July 9, 8 p.m.; $20. (323) 466-2210.

Sat., July 9, 8 p.m., 2011