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Photo by Tenaya HillsJohnny Thunders died at 38, but even that was 15 years beyond what the actuarial tables would have predicted—given the trash aesthetic that shaped not just his wardrobe but his diet of smack, smack and more smack. SoAloneis the punk-rock musical about his American life, from guitarist for the New York Dolls and Heartbreakers to his death-by-overdose in a New Orleans hotel. The play—which premiered at Stages in 1995, was revived in 2000, and returns this weekend for a 10th anniversary run—is given a serious goosing up by the presence of two live bands depicting Thunders' stints in the Dolls and Heartbreakers, a gaggle of actors who can actually play instruments. No lip-synching here.
Portraying Dolls bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane—and giving the production even more credibility—is Kris Swanson, singer of longtime OC band the Exploding Fuck Dolls. (Swanson took Duane Peters' place in 1996 when Peters left to form US Bombs.) He filled the Kane role in the 2000 production, and he's back for another go-round.
"It'll be better this time because we get to promote it," Swanson promises. "Before, we had to keep the play semi-underground because we didn't have the proper legal clearances to use the songs. But Johnny's sister found out about it and she liked it, so now we have approval of the Thunders estate."
Punk historian Legs McNeil also got word of the William Mittler-penned and -directed work, and the production has since employed some concepts taken from PleaseKillMe,McNeil's punk oral history, a lot of which swirls around Thunders.
SoAloneis a scary-authentic depiction of Thunders' junkie-gone-to-heaven life, a side Swanson has witnessed too many times in the OC punk scene.
"One of the things I like about the play is that it shows the shooting-up stuff," he says. "I've seen some of my really good friends fall into nothing because of heroin, seen the paranoia and how they think everyone is against them. SoAloneis good because if you don't even know who Johnny Thunders is, you get a cool little message, but without being preachy. It doesn't say, 'Say no to drugs' at all, just 'Here are the facts, here's what happened, take it or leave it.'"
So that he could reprise his role as Kane, Swanson asked his fellow Fuck Dolls to postpone a planned summer tour; they'll play some dates later in the season. Not as exciting—but vital to the musical's depiction of '70s glam and punk—are the period costumes Swanson wears during performances.
"I got some real sexy size 12 zebra stilettos we found online at a men's drag store; some nice gold Spandex pants with a bright purple tutu; and the long, blonde wig. I was home with some buddies, and they said that if I walked to the liquor store wearing the costume, they'd buy the beer—but if someone jumped out of a car to beat me, I told them they'd have to have my back. So I did it. I looked about seven feet tall. Some people honked. One girl asked if I needed a ride."
SO ALONE AT STAGES THEATRE, 400 E. COMMONWEALTH AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 525-4484. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 6 P.M. THRU AUG. 7. $16.