Kansas City Choir Boy, an electric and beautiful love story that’s part romance, part mystery, and told through flashbacks about two lovers in Kansas City by (and starring) Todd Almond, made its world premiere last winter in New York at a tiny, off-Off-Broadway space. Both critics and audiences alike swooned over the piece, a 60-minute rock opera of sorts that also happened to mark the stage debut of Courtney Love.
Most are familiar with the well-documented exploits of Love’s personal life, but less often is she celebrated as a talented artist, and a savvy survivor who has known—and lived to tell of—more drama than most could imagine.
It should come as no surprise that Love is one hell of an actress: From her Golden Globe-nominated turn in The People vs. Larry Flynt to her more recent stints on TV’s Sons of Anarchy and Empire, her gift for acting is clear. Next month, Boston audiences have the chance to see her up close and personal when Kansas City Choir Boy opens on Oct 1.
Todd, the show came about after you wrote an adaptation of The Odyssey for Juilliard, right?
Todd Almond: Well, I had written an adaptation for Juilliard and we performed it with the third-year students. The actress who played Athena was a wonderful young actress named Sarah Fox, and the summer after we did the show she went missing. We all found out, horribly, a few months later that she had been murdered in Inwood Park. A couple of years after that, I was in Kansas City working on a project and kind of at a low point, feeling pretty blue, and I was in a room with my computer, writing songs, and I had the news on and a face popped up and said “local girl missing,” and it reminded me of the summer that we found out Sarah had died, because the same thing happened in New York. I was just in my apartment and her face popped up, and it said “local girl found dead.” It was the only time in my life that I ever knew the person whose face had popped up … it just triggered a lot of emotional response, so I wrote all of these songs in a pretty short time span.
How did you first get hooked up with Todd for this project?
Courtney Love: Well, he’s married to a lovely man named Mark Subias, and I met him through Mark. [Todd] had this cohesive piece and we just started hanging out in his apartment and learning the songs, because they’re not in my usual phrasing and, you know, I’d show him certain elements of little things that I thought would be helpful from the rock world. But mostly it was Todd. I’d never worked with a musical theater person in my life, so I was very nervous about it. We just gelled and have really good chemistry. It just turned out really well. And you know, there were some bumps in the road but it actually became second nature to me. I’ve done a little rock tour since, and it’s actually not quite as fun. I really like this musical. It’s still got rock parts in it, but it’s different than what I normally do.
What kind of changes occurred to the piece once Courtney became involved?
TA: Well, I think that my favorite aspect of theater is the live quality of it, and the fact that you’re making art with [and] for the people that are in the room, at that exact moment. The piece was [already] written, but I think it really took the two of us in artistic conversation with each other to make it come alive. Courtney really brought so much of her power and her knowledge and her extraordinary musicianship and her brilliance as an actress to this piece. It really forced me to rethink [and] rewrite a couple of moments. Courtney is just a live creature and so perfect for the theater, because one of the requirements is that you are always in the moment and that everything feels fresh and new, and Courtney just is that way all the time, so it changed [when] such a vital element was introduced to it. It changed in a million little ways but the piece itself maintained its structure and its overarching qualities. I think it really came to life in a way. The electricity struck it.
CL: That was very nice, Todd!
Courtney, did you find that working on this show sparked the kind of creative energy that you had been searching for? I read that you were on tour and you were kind of looking at the set list and going, “Oh, really, this again?”
CL: It was Australia and I was looking at the set list and I was going, “No. Really? Really? ‘Doll Parts,’ again? Really?” and, you know, you get the kind of ennui, and it just gets boring and you know the audience knows everything. You’re not educating anybody. Without sounding too full of myself, I think that Todd’s right in that my expertise in the last 20 years [is] live performance [so] I think theater and musical theater suits me really well. Even though I come from film, I certainly enjoy it more than being in the recording studio. You’re reaching out. There’s one part in the piece where I look everyone in the eyes, which I really enjoy. It’s in the dark, it’s a small theater, and you’re soul searching in people’s eyes. Then I break it down and go back to the fourth wall, and that’s really fun. It’s a really sad, bittersweet love story. It’s really good and I think it wouldn’t work if Todd wasn’t Todd and if we didn’t have the chemistry that we have. I think that Todd has a really incredible live chemistry, he really comes alive and his voice is incredible; he hits notes I could only dream of. It’s just creamy. And he’s taller than me … I’m usually the tallest one. And we kiss a lot, so…
CL: Yeah. We make out [and] take off our shirts.
Todd, you once said that when you started working with Courtney it was like you had found a magnet in your spine that you didn’t know you had. Based on the kind of reviews you guys got, that chemistry is pretty obvious to everyone. People really love this show. Even the stuffy theater critics.
CL: Yeah, that’s surprising, isn’t it?
TA: It clicked between us personally and on stage. I’m really excited to do it some more and keep exploring. It was a short run in New York, and I kind of felt that by the end we were digging deeper.
Courtney, I would imagine that you get some pretty intriguing acting offers—stage offers, specifically.
CL: Yeah, sort of. I get a lot of reality show offers, that’s for sure. [laughs] It’s ridiculous! I’m never gonna do one, but they won’t stop offering them to me.
TA: That’s hilarious.
CL: I know, it’s so sad. I have to write the reality show people and say “Never, ever, ever, ever, going to happen, please stop asking!” I get a few stage offers now and then.
What was it about Kansas City Choir Boy that made you say “I’ll do that one”?
CL: I felt really safe with Todd [and] we had a really good chemistry. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous about the stuffy critics. Nobody wants to get lambasted and it doesn’t matter either way, but it kinda does, you know what I mean? I just knew that it had quality and depth; and I knew that our director knew what he was doing. It was [all] really intriguing [and] I’ve never done a play, so this is a perfect transition for me out of rock and roll into live theater.
Will you be back on Empire?
CL: I don’t know! They shot the second season and they didn’t bring my character back, so that might be it. Everybody wanted to be on that show after it became a hit.
You’re the trailblazer.
CL: We’re really looking forward to Boston, and ART, and the space; it should be really fun. I’ve never spent any significant period of time in Boston in my life, so…
Is it true that you wrote “Doll Parts” here?
CL: Yes, at a woman named Joyce Linehan’s house in Cambridge. It’s two chords, a really easy song to write, [but] yeah, I wrote it at Joyce’s house. Joyce had all the bands stay at her house, so we stayed there. I [recently] found out that Joyce [works] for the Mayor’s office or something. [Ed note: she is the Chief of Policy for Mayor Walsh, and the house was actually in Dorchester, not Cambridge.]
CL: Isn’t it hilarious? At that time I was dating Kurt, and Kurt had messed around with this busker girl and I was like, “Oh, no! That’s not gonna do, that won’t do!” so I really wanted to write a fierce song declaring my love. So that’s what I did.
How did the Boston run come about?
TA: Well, we have an amazing producer named Beth Morrison, and part of what she does is take pieces like Kansas City Choir Boy and contemporary operas, and she presents them all around the country and the world. OBERON and ART was just a perfect fit. I think maybe Diane Paulus saw it and liked it. Beth is just a brilliant producer. She’s a marvel.
Courtney, there are some similarities between you and your character. How much have you been drawing from your own experiences?
CL: Well, I think this character is really ambitious. It’s about a couple who are kind of the coolest couple in a very small town, and it’s just not big enough for her, and I can relate to that. I was like that in Portland, and I definitely like broke a few hearts getting out of there. Then I moved to San Francisco, and then that wasn’t big enough, and then LA and then New York. But it’s not like I’m method acting, a lot of this is through music so it’s not to the point where I’m in this character all the time or something.
Courtney, I would love to see you in a really complicated Tennessee Williams role, like Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire). Is that something that you would consider?
CL: You know, I was once asked to play Stella in the West End and I didn’t do it because I didn’t like the Stanley [laughs]. It was a long time ago, I was a jackass back then. I thought to myself at the time, this was in like 1999 or 2000, I was like “My God. If I play Stella, that means I’ll be like, the only actress who will ever play Stella and Blanche” because one of my goals in life when I am old enough is to play Blanche. But I’m getting up there, so, I don’t know what kind of Blanche I would make. I’m a basket case. I would definitely, definitely enjoy exploring that, but like I said before, the thing about Kansas City Choir Boy is that it’s this great transition … I don’t feel insecure or scared that I’m out of my comfort zone, but [it’s] not so out of my comfort zone that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’m transitioning as an artist, and this is the way to do it. I’m excited. I’m really excited to do it out of New York, and I’m excited to see Harvard boys!
KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY. RUNS 10.1-10.10 AT THE AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER AT OBERON, 2 ARROW ST., CAMBRIDGE. AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG