Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: Meow Meow purring through Thursday

At one point during Meow Meow’s opening night performance at Stage Door Theater Monday, the cabaret singer threw a leg over an audience member’s shoulder as he and two other men (also recruited from the crowd) awkwardly lifted her into the air. The crowd was in stitches as she twisted in their arms firing out instructions (“My face to the front,” “Turn me”).

Opening night wasn’t a sellout, but it wasn’t a bust either. Busts were a actually running gag. The singer positioned herself on the floor so she wouldn’t be distracted from her song by her own ample cleavage, but it was the busting of guts that was most common. Those gut-busting gags often involved help from an audience that was more than game to hold her microphone or rub her leg. In asking for assistance she worked with the crowd’s strengths (“Does anyone know French?” “Can anyone play piano?”). One guy played a bit of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” while her regular pianist set up the DVD player which he projected on to…well you just have to see it.

That’s the thing about such a funny and original one woman musical. You don’t want to give much away or you’d spoil the fun. Although wait until you see what she does for the burlesque number and how she wears her evening gown.

What you should know is Meow Meow is the alter ego of Melissa Madden Gray, an Australian actress and singer who is well known for her performances in London’s West End. As Meow Meow she won the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Prize in 2010 (the same place Blumenthal found the hilarious must-see mock rock duo Die Roten Punkte).

The quick-witted would-be starlet performs in a sparkly slip dress with heavy makeup and frizzed hair that makes it look like she woke up boozy. Although she comments on the show as its happening and even pops a few pills when her 17-minute timer buzzes mid-song, there’s never a real threat the show won’t go on. She tells of her breakup, her career highlights ("this off, off, off Broadway theater" is not one of them), and sings of love, loss, politics, and communism in a number of languages. There’s a lot of French, a little German, a bit of Japanese, and English too. She even covered Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.”

One of the funniest things is her cues to the lighting crew, sometimes called out mid-song. While those aforementioned bits are all funny, it wouldn’t work if Gray couldn’t sing. She can. In fact her voice is quite moving at times.

The act is billed as kamikaze cabaret. If that means in-your-face, artsy musical-comedy, then it’s a good description. She’s bawdy and brash, but not offensive. You don’t have to know anything about cabaret or understand French to “get it.”

Still on the fence? The acts she’s toured and worked with might sway you - Amanda Palmer, Dresden Dolls, Pink Martini’s Thomas M. Lauderdale, and John Cameron Mitchell of “Hedwig” fame. 

With the Democratic National Convention here recently, there’s been a lot of talk in the last year about Charlotte’s quest to become a top-tier (or at least second-tier) city. One of the things that signals a city’s rise is its support for the arts and that includes avant garde entertainment like Meow Meow that’s all the buzz overseas or in NYC. Local promoters and bookers are doing a pretty good job of getting Charlotte this kind of edgy entertainment whether its EDM, world music or some difficult to describe send-up or stage show. For instance “Spank! The 50 Shades Parody” begins its run this week as well and unusual shows like Die Roten Punkte and Celebrity Autobiography have graced Blumenthal’s stages over the past few years. Support for these events varies, but it seems like things are moving in the right direction. Meow Meow has that kind of big city buzz.