Courtney Love and Todd Almond perform an ‘album’ of greatest hurts
Lovers don’t get more star-crossed than the two at the heart of “Kansas City Choir Boy.” With music and lyrics by Todd Almond, the experimental play was conceived as a “theatricalized concept album” about a man and woman whose doomed romance is told in ephemeral but resonant detail.
It stars Almond and Courtney Love, the gale-force rock singer known for fronting the band Hole (and, quite simply, as an overall badass), as his lover. The story unfolds in flashbacks and hinges on intimacy through its in-the-round staging.
Almond’s music ranges from brittle art songs to thumping dance-pop, and Love’s voice carries the corroded gravitas of a woman who’s been to hell and back. (In other words, she admits, the role wasn’t much of a stretch.)
After premiering in New York in January, “Kansas City Choir Boy” opens on the American Repertory Theater’s Oberon stage on Thursday with multiple performances through Oct. 10.
On the phone from Los Angeles, where they were warming up with the material before taking it on the road, Almond and Love recently shared a speakerphone for a lively chat with the Globe.
Q. From the video performance I saw of the show, it was clear you two have an intense chemistry onstage. Some of the moments were so private that I felt like I shouldn’t have been watching.
Almond: It’s funny you say that because one of the big inspirations for the piece itself was this: I was on a train, I can’t remember where, and I looked out the window and saw this man and woman making out on the platform. I didn’t know anything about them — whether they were getting on or off the train. But I was just so struck by getting to peek into their lives for one really important moment. [“Kansas City Choir Boy”] is really a series of those moments. There’s not a lot of connective tissue. You see them get married, break up, have their first sexual encounter. I was inspired by that same feeling of, “I shouldn’t be watching this, but I’m really enjoying it.”
Q: You two met through your husband, but what was your knowledge of Courtney’s music before working with her?
Almond: It’s always a little bit embarrassing to talk about, and she’s sitting right next to me, but I’ve been such an enormous fan of Courtney’s since the world first met her.
Love: Do you mean that?
Almond: I do. When I knew this was happening, I called my brother and said, “You’re never going to believe who I’m working with?” I told him it was Courtney Love, and he was just silent. He was like, “But you LOVE Courtney Love!”
Love: That is so sweet!
Q. Had you already written the piece by the time Courtney signed on?
Almond: The show was written, but once we started rehearsing, it shifted to match the energy that we were creating together. She brought so much of herself to the role. In fact, one of the songs, “Fireworks,” I radically rewrote based on one of our conversations. We sat around my living room and played the guitar and rewrote the song on the fly.
Love: I showed him a clip from Fleetwood Mac’s 1982 “Mirage” tour where Lindsey [Buckingham] and Stevie [Nicks] are doing “The Chain.” Fleetwood Mac is one of my all-time favorite and biggest influences. They were one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, but they hated each other’s guts. It’s kind of like Lindsey and Stevie are competing in this clip. She raises an eyebrow when he sings [Love belts in a coarse snarl]: “You don’t love me now!” I still think of that moment and use that energy when I sing the song.
Q. Courtney, you come from a rock ’n’ roll background. What was your relationship with musical theater before doing this piece?
Love: Well, Frances [Bean Cobain, Love’s daughter with Kurt Cobain] always loved musical theater when she was growing up. So I went to a lot of basic stuff like “Chicago.” Also, as a child, when I lived in Portland, Ore., I worked in musical theater as a kid actor at the Portland Civic Theatre. But I still know nothing about theater, and there’s so much to learn.
Q. This marks your theatrical debut as an actor. Had you ever entertained the idea of stage work?
Love: Yes! I wanted to do a David Mamet play that played in Boston called “Boston Marriage” [which the ART originally produced in 1999]. I fell in love with the play and wanted to be in it. I was at Sundance one year and saw Liev Schreiber and he said, “Call Mamet and ask him.” So I called Mamet, and he was kind of bemused that I called him — and that I had even gotten his phone number. [She didn’t get the role.] I am looking at a play to do after this one. It’s in my wheelhouse character-wise, so it’s not like I’d be playing a virginal woman. She’s been around the block.
Q. Todd, I think of Courtney as an inherently theatrical person, even in her music. Was that fun to play off as a writer and fellow actor?
Almond: It’s pretty dreamy. I didn’t know that because I hadn’t seen her onstage before, but I had seen her in films. She’s so theatrical because she’s constantly alive in the moment, which is what you need in theater. All eyes go to her, and she can’t lie. It’s impossible for her to be dishonest; she’s just always right there with you. In theater, the audience responds to honesty. She excels at that so magnificently.
Q. As a singer, was there a period of adjustment for you, Courtney?
Love: It was difficult. The phrasing for me is different. I’ve worked with different types of producers and done corporate gigs because I’m an absolute hooker for corporate gigs; if they pay enough, I’m there. And I did that Lana Del Rey tour recently, but none of that is outside my wheelhouse. Todd’s stuff is very difficult for me. There’s a lot of pausing, and as he told me, the sex is in the pause. I had to learn that patience and enjoy it. It’s not second nature to me like four-to-the-floor rock is. But it’s new, which is exciting to me.
KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY
Music and lyrics by Todd Almond. Directed by Kevin Newbury. Presented by the American Repertory Theater. At Oberon, Cambridge, Oct. 1-10. Tickets: Starting at $20. 617-547-8300, www.americanrepertorytheater.org