Fans of Courtney Love’s music are used to seeing the irrepressibly uninhibited rocker rage onstage with her band Hole, her cathartic howl tearing through grungy anthems such as “Doll Parts” or “Violet.”
And film buffs were pleasantly surprised by Love’s mesmerizing performance as a porn mogul’s lady love in 1996’s “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” opposite Woody Harrelson, for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe Award.
But the polarizing widow of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain – to some, Love is a Yoko Ono-esque villain; to many more, she’s an influential feminist icon – has stepped out of her comfort zone and into the world of musical theater, where she has reached an entirely new audience.
Love takes center stage in “Kansas City Choir Boy,” an intimate theater piece by composer/performer Todd Almond that lands at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center from Wednesday through Dec. 11, after stops in Manhattan, Boston and Los Angeles.
The show – starring Almond and Love, backed by a six-woman chorus and string quartet – was inspired by both Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” and a relationship Almond had with a young actress he worked with who was murdered in New York City.
The Almond and Love tag team talked to the Miami Herald about working together on the show, with Courtney answering a few questions on her own about her career.
Todd, what made you think of Courtney for this role?
Well, I’m a huge fan, and I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Courtney personally through my husband [and Love’s agent], Mark Subias, and the director Kevin Newbury and I were aiming toward getting this onstage, and we just started dreaming, like, ‘What if Courtney could do this – she’s the most perfect, perfect actress for this role.’ And we just took a chance and asked her. Courtney and I get along really well, and have a lot of respect for each other – and here we are.
Courtney, you’ve always been pretty careful about choosing roles – what drew you to this?
Well, I love the music for it, I love Todd, and I felt like it was a good risk to take. It’s not four-to-the-floor rock – it’s very different, so I had to learn to phrase in different ways, move and comport myself in different ways, and remember that there’s a fourth wall, and that it’s not about me. And also, it’s a very intimate production, like your hip is resting on someone’s head, or when I come in and I twirl in this giant ball gown Zac Posen made for the production, it’s, like, hitting people. You know what I mean? It’s very intimate, and it was just something that I wanted to do – it was on my bucket list.
How would you describe the music?
As Todd Almond music. It’s very original and very pleasant to the ear, and lovely and fantastic. It’s just not Stones-y, grungy, the stuff that I write. It’s very different from that.
Todd, did Courtney bring anything to this role that surprised you?
Oh, yes. She’s got such an enormous life force, and she brought in all of this energy, even in ways that she doesn’t know. She just, as an interpreter of someone else’s music, brings all of her color and artistry to it, so the songs had to fit themselves to her. I think it’s actually brought them to life in a way that they weren’t alive. There’s a song that takes place in the story where she and I – we play lovers who come together and go apart and come back together in a strange way – but the part where we’re splitting up is a long, slow lovely song with these long phrases that quietly unfold themselves. And Courtney’s like, ‘I just had a major impulse,’ and she showed me Fleetwood Mac live from the 1982 “Mirage” tour doing “The Chain,” where Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks are singing at each other and for the audience, and there’s a lot of history and hatred and love. And it was such an explosive performance that I went back to the drawing board and kind of rethought that song. Courtney and I sat in my living room with a guitar and we rethought that whole moment.
So there were specific moments like that where Courtney had intellectual thoughts on the piece that changed it, but also, she just has a spiritual effect on the piece that revolutionized it.
Courtney, did anything about the show surprise you after you agreed to do it?
Well, I had to take great lessons in restraint, really change my game a little, posture, singing from the diaphragm most of the time, not the head voice, and ignoring that there’s an audience there, keeping the fourth wall going, and not slip into shoddy rock habits. So, there’s a lot there for me to do, and it’s a challenge every night to do it and bring that energy.
Courtney, it must feel fortunate to have this show happen in Miami during Art Basel week, since you’re a visual artist as well as a musician.
Yeah! I’ve never been to Art Basel, because I don’t wanna just sit around and go to parties. I’m not a very serious collector – I mean, I’m a collector, but mostly I’m an artist and I make art. So I’m excited, and Todd’s excited, and it might also add to the robustness of the audience as well, with all this going on. Because these are not like the people that I see when I’m playing a rock show; these are grownups and people who like musical theater, so it’s more “Masterpiece.” [Laughs] But it’s super-fun and it’s not stodgy in any way – it’s really, really fun and very vital and full of robust life and action and energy and all the things that Todd brought to it.
Courtney, you were a very vital part of the Seattle punk and grunge scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Does anything in music today feel as exciting to you?
No. [Laughter all around] I have a friend I’ve known since she’s 14 – she’s a riot grrl and used to live with me and Kurt, and does MTV editorial content now, and I love being on her feed because she loves so much rap. And I’m just so alienated from what’s going on in rap, and it’s not willful ignorance on my part – it’s just like, I’m a rocker. If The Kills come out with something, I’m gonna listen to it.
Courtney, what’s the status of Hole?
You know … I don’t know. I think there’s a huge demand [to reunite] that’s increased in the last week, and other than that I don’t want to comment on it. I kind of leave that to [guitarist] Eric [Erlandson] and [bassist] Melissa [Auf der Maur] to work out. If the demand is true, and it’s not like 1,000 people at some German club, then I would do it. But the demand needs to be there, and there also needs to be a place for new music that’s relevant for now.
- IF YOU GO
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday- Thursday, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday running through Dec. 11
- Info: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org; $85
- Where: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Carnival Studio Theater, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
- What: Kansas City Choir Boy