Leith and I saw *A Very Meow Meow Holiday Show* at BAM on 12/12/19. Meow Meow is an Australian cabaret performer. BAM was promoting the show as a holiday show for people who are OVER the holidays. That's what we all need, right?
She's a sensational performer. She taps into a deep, theatrical truth by piling the stage high with artifice. Here's a video of her performing with Pink Martini. It perfectly captures what she brings to the table: delicious vocals, world-weary hauteur, and old school burlesque cheesiness.
The one thing missing in the video is the humor! She was a laugh riot, a ravenous theatre animal. She's been described as "The Mother Courage of Performance Art," which is pretty much spot on.
She had a three-piece band: one guy playing piano, another playing drums (also xylophone, other percussion instruments, also electric bass), and a third guy playing stand-up bass (also recorder and tuba). All three guys also sang backup, they were a crackerjack trio.
She said at the start of the show that she was going to have three special guests: Jake Shears (of the Scissor Sisters), Alan Cumming, and "the voice of God," Rufus Wainwright. The "doorbell" rang at one point (the stage was done up like a construction zone) and she got all excited that it was one of her guests. It was not. Then she noticed that she had three voice mail messages. She listened to them, and they were from the three guests, all of them canceling. Cumming's was the funniest: "I'm afraid I can't join you tonight for your concert at Royal Albert Hall. I'm sure you'll be marvelous, maybe next time!"
Let me describe the setup of the theater, the Harvey Theater at BAM. It's sort of like an amphitheater, with the stage on the ground floor and the seating going up from there. My favorite bit had Meow Meow talking with a few people in the front row: "Hello darling. What a lovely coat, I love the color and it looks so cozy. Yes, I'll take that, thank you. Very kind of you. Oh hello, what a beautiful handbag. And it goes so well with my new coat. Yes, that's mine now, thanks loads. Sweetie, that handsome man sitting next to you, may I borrow him for a bit? You're a dear. Hello, darling, here's what you're going to do, and I appreciate it so much. You're going to walk behind me and carry all of the things that I collect. Do you understand? Thank you, you're a dear." And she walked through the audience taking coats and handbags from about 15 people. The best moment, "Oh how divine. YOU, in the true spirit of Christmas generosity - - you're going to give me your cane!" And she took the cane from some random older person! All of these things were deposited on the stage by the helpful audience member, and the "donors" had a sift through that pile as they left the theater. She did all of this while singing that holiday classic, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "The Ballad of the Soldier's Wife." Here it is sung by another world-weary chanteuse, Marianne Faithfull:
And what a treat, I also came into play! Me myself! Meow Meow came over to my aisle early in the show and said, "Who's feeling lucky?" Everyone sat on their hands, paralyzed with fear, but my hand shot up. She gave me a gift, her new CD. She said, "Happy Christmas, darling. You can pay for that in the lobby after the show."
She did end up having three special guests, but not the ones she had in mind. Two little girls stopped by singing carols and she pressed them into service. They sang "In the Bleak Midwinter" while Meow Meow hovered above them, shaking the fake snow out of her wig. Later in the show they led the audience in "Silent Night." I appeared to be the only audience member who knew any words after the first verse. Ain't these people doing to church? Oh yes, we were in Brooklyn. And not everyone in New York (ahem) celebrates Christmas...
The other special guest was Michaela Burger as Meow Meow's double. She was significantly shorter and less buxom than La Meow, but she had the right costume and the right attitude. They did a few numbers together, one of them coming across like a delightful old English music hall routine. Like Mary Poppins after dark.
She ended the show by crowd-surfing. Typically this involves the performer jumping from the stage into the crowd, and he or she is carried around, borne aloft by the hands of the audience members. This theater had a strange setup because the stage was lower than the audience, so how was she going to do it? She did it by standing on the arms of a seat in the front row and lowering herself onto the waiting hands of the audience members in front of her. They passed her all the way up to the mezzanine, at which point she said, "OK darlings, please stop! I'm feeling rather precarious! I don't know how to extract myself, maybe it would be best to just pass me back down to the stage." Which is just what they did. It was thrilling and a total riot.