Intimate Sex Kitten Cabaret
Meow Meow’s vamp revolution puts the fringe in Arts Festival
By Jeff Maisey
The lights in the intimate theater are dimmed out and in walks Meow Meow from a rear entrance, spotlight on her as she appears flabbergasted dragging an awkwardly-sized piece of hard-shell luggage on wheels down the aisle towards the floor-level stage.
She’s politely bitching every step of the way, peeling off clothing and asking members of the audience during the short trek for assistance. She’s a diva in need, a damsel in distress in need of rescue only from herself. This is her engaging opening and her playthings in the audience have received a formal introduction into what is without question a non-stop 90-minute experience overflowing with sexual innuendo, off-color humor and musical ecstasy with enough intellectual stimulation to satisfy the most orgasmic cravings.
In case you’ve not heard, Meow Meow is a world touring cabaret singer. Born Melissa Madden Gray in Australia, she’s the mistress darling of fans in Scotland where in 2010 she was awarded the much coveted Edinburgh International Festival Fringe Prize. She has performed large scale productions with full orchestra, but also specializes in tiny spaces. Meow Meow’s solo programs have been curated by David Bowie, Pina Bausch, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, amongst others.
When Meow Meow takes residence at the Virginia Arts Festivals Robin Hixon Theater she’ll be performing as a seductive solo act – pure cabaret.
“It’ll be the essence of me just singing my head off,” she told me backstage in her dressing room before a performance in Durham, North Carolina. “I might do some of the material from “Little Match Girl,” but it will be much more in-concert rather than a narrative. It gives me the flexibility to make it different every night.”
“Little Match Girl” was a large scale production recently finished in London at the end of 2012. It’s an example of how the critically-acclaimed performer conceptualizes a routine.
“It takes the fable as a loose beginning and springboard for the show,” she explained. “I’m quite politically motivated in all of my work and that fairy tale deals with a little girl freezing and dying in the streets and being stepped over by strangers. It’s an unusual fairy tale in that the others are about a hero or heroine’s journey, and hers is about social neglect. So I felt compelled to take that into a modern setting given that the problem of youth homelessness is massive. That became the springboard for a show that was very poignant but also funny. It’s my version of things collapsing. It had a big band and massive set.”
As an entertainer, Meow Meow revels in the fact that one night she’ll perform in front of a sold-out crowd at the Sydney Opera House and a week later find herself just as comfortably staged in a 200-seat theater.
The character that is Meow Meow is fashioned after the classic era of French cabaret as well as contemporary versions.
“I am inspired by Liza Minelli because she’s extremely charismatic and she’s a clown as well as being a brilliant deliverer of a song. I only saw her live a couple of years ago for the first time.
“My inspiration is more eclectic than the world of the diva. It’s Sarah Burnhart traveling all around and playing in circus tents. It’s not just Marlina Dietrich. I’m more driven by Anita Berber (1899-1928), who was an exotic dancer and wrote extreme poetry about morphium, death and suicide. I’m more influenced by someone like Diamanda Galas.”
Meow Meow often improvises on stage. She’s in the audience half of the show it seems at times; sharing a bottle of wine; asking someone to how on to a bouquet of roses and present them to her at an appropriate time. She’s referencing the tradition of ridiculous glamour in the way she always has a lit cigarette in-hand. Two, in fact. She gives orders and constantly asks for assistance.
“I want the whole audience to be involved and broadly engaged,” she said. “That’s why there is the threat of participation. But I’m not interested in humiliating people. People shouldn’t have an anxious night in the theater. It’s always practical. It’s can you hold this for me? It’s never stand up and look at what you’re wearing. It’s the way of the diva in a way – I need help, I need help. I do everything by myself but am massively assisted. I want all of us to be in the room together.”
Robin Hixon Theater