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Deep Throat Queen For a Day

Because so many local stage productions begin and end in venues that are smaller than the den of a midsize manse, ambitious creator/producer types like to use L.A. as a tryout for off-Broadway and beyond. Creatively, the West Coast is known to be more open than the East, with cheaper rents and actors as fine as anywhere. Enter the trial showcase performance last month of Lovelace: The Musical at the packed-to-the-gills, 300-seat Key Club on Sunset, a venue more suited to the likes of whatever San Fernando Valley goateed groaner rock that’s papered the joint, or various dance nights. Linda was being prepped, so to speak, for her off-Broadway opening next spring at the Revelation Theater.

Call it mega-camp appeal or kitsch on HGH. The very idea of creator Jeffrey Bowman’s musical, for which he wrote the book and lyrics, is a can’t-lose proposition: the life story of Deep Throat heroine Linda Lovelace, as performed by sweet-faced Family Ties alum Tina Yothers, and set to Godspell-ish music scribed by Go-Go Charlotte Caffey and ex–That Dog leader Anna Waronker. It’s the ultimate inside joke, and the gag (sorry) is beaten (sorry again) all the way to the glue factory by the appearances of narrator and performance artist Ann Magnuson, as well as John Waters regular Mink Stole.

The assembled, therefore, knew pretty much what to expect and lapped it up accordingly. ’70s fanatics and pop-culture vultures like ex-Germ/Nirvana/Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear and former Celebrity Skin head Jason Shapiro dotted the crowd, and the latter was most impressed with what he’d heard in rehearsals. “It’s Tommy meets Jesus Christ Superstar,” gushed the guitarist. And Smear and Shapiro’s description of the music churned out by the ace five-piece orchestra was spot on: This was indeed the music of the early smiley-face era, although mercifully devoid of that time’s most horrific device, the guitar solo. Caffey and Waronker are punks after all, one surmises, or at least have absorbed the influences of their respective spouses, the brothers MacDonald of Redd Kross.

The real shocker, crowdwise, was that there was much more suit ’n’ tie than leather in attendance. Even though Yothers has been belting out R&R for years in clubs now, one gets the sense that she’s still perceived as a television creature. Which might be the underlying motivation for this seemingly unorthodox casting choice, as though designed to destroy her image as freckle-faced Jennifer Keaton.

 

The play’s running goof is the tension between double-entendres and a serious take on a tragic life. Yothers makes a compelling Linda Lovelace (just as she made a perfect Tonya Harding), a kind of distracted and ditsy heroine/victim. The Harry Reems (Jimmy Swan) and Chuck Traynor (Willie Wisely) characters are also terrific, with Traynor totally over-the-top evil and Reems’ theme song, “My Cock,” bringing down the house. Even though the show-closing whopper of an arrangement to the bittersweet “Strange Life” is superior on all counts, it didn’t kill like the good old pee-pee joke did. That’s the bane of rock musicals: Rock is coarse; the less weighty it is, the better. Theater is the opposite.

Walking back down Sunset to the car afterward: The street was deserted and barely a wisp of what it was in both the ’70s and the ’80s. ‘‘Strip” applies more to what has been shorn away than to what’s left of the rock & roll era. You wonder if this rocking piece, with its music and heart locked in the ’70s, will fly anywhere but in the twin capitals of coastal hip. If it taps a weird kind of wistfulness, conjuring another Boogie Nights moment, given the deathly dull of this plodding era, why the fuck not?


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