Todd Almond backs a subdued Courtney Love in “Kansas City Choir Boy” at Oberon.
Once upon a time, Courtney Love would hit town with her grunge-pop band Hole and turn a large rock venue into an exhibition(ist) hall, making moments intimate through antagonistic exchanges with the crowd. This was mostly back in the ’90s, before and after the death of husband Kurt Cobain, a time marked by drug abuse and tabloid fodder, before she turned to acting and eventually cleaned herself up.
But Love’s stage debut in “Kansas City Choir Boy” casts a very different experience in the intimate cabaret-style space of Harvard Square’s Oberon. Here the singer was truly close to the audience – and sometimes even in the audience, along with co-lead Todd Almond, six dancing chorus “sirens” and a mobile string quartet. But she remained immersed in her theatrical zone.Once upon a time, Courtney Love would hit town with her grunge-pop band Hole and turn a large rock venue into an exhibition(ist) hall, making moments intimate through antagonistic exchanges with the crowd. This was mostly back in the ’90s, before and after the death of husband Kurt Cobain, a time marked by drug abuse and tabloid fodder, before she turned to acting and eventually cleaned herself up.
Almond’s really the central character in “Kansas City Choir Boy,” which continues through Oct. 10 at the American Repertory Theater’s second stage. He wrote the music and lyrics and spends the most time onstage in the 55-minute production, unspooled as a flashback from a TV report that the girl he loved was found dead.
Still, all eyes focus on Love, from the moment she appears (classically) from a balcony as the character Athena and swoops into Almond’s life onstage. Their initial fondling seemed a bit stiff as the couple navigated around Almond’s keyboard during Friday’s press opening, but their chemistry quickly grew more evident – and Love displayed an alluring sparkle in her eyes, pulling her into the role.
From there, it’s a fairly straightforward boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-finds-girl story, if all largely implied with songs rather than dialogue. Love was never a great singer, but she settled into a slightly flat drawl a bit like Marianne Faithfull, conveying the right emotion and annunciation. And Almond projected his own winsome charm in singing as well as playing guitar, keyboard and a DJ-style laptop, as part of the score comes in lite electro to match pulsing LED lights that creep up the ceiling strip and backing wall of the tiny center-T stage.
Much of the appeal of “Kansas City Choir Boy” comes from the positioning of the cast on and around that Oberon stage under director Kevin Newbury and choreographer Sam Pinkleton. The surrounding audience is split into two tiers of seats to each side, leaving aisles and mezzanine steps for the cast to roam and serenade. Love chews some scenery when she strips to a bra for a disrobing early love scene and later appears in a black Zac Posen gown, but the Oberon’s small runway fits a production that’s modest yet engaging.