By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
April 17, 2014
Founders of one of Indianapolis’ most venerable institutions could never have imagined a Cabaret would be situated in their once staid Columbia Club, much less a bawdy, scantily clad entertainer named Meow Meow throwing herself into a mosh pit during her show in the elegant Crystal Terrace room. But that was indeed what happened Friday during “Feline Intimate,” presented by the Australian-born, actor, singer and cabaret performer whose given name is Melissa Madden Gray.
Meow Meow, who has been called a “post-postmodern cabaret diva,” counts amongst her fans such luminaries as David Bowie and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Named top ten “Best of Cabaret” by Time Out New York, she has captivated audiences in some of the most prestigious venues all over the world with what is best described in her press materials as “her unique brand of kamikaze cabaret and performance art exotica.”
To experience Meow Meow, holding her ever present fake cigarette, was to be enthralled by a brilliant comedienne who spoofed cabaret by liberally borrowing from those associated with the art, including Edith Piaf, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich and Liza Minnelli, along with funny ladies Bette Midler, Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball and even present pop culture queen Lady Gaga thrown in for good measure.
“Un Ano d’amor” (“A Year of Love”) was the first song Meow Meow sang while wearing a tight fitting, sparkly and glitzy long gown showing off her voluptuous figure. It wasn’t long before the audience realized that nothing in her show was to be taken seriously. Stopping at one point during the song, she asked the audience to throw flowers at her. Feigning disgust because they had none, and saying “I have to do everything myself,” she stopped the song, and left the room, only to return carrying arm loads of artificial roses which she handed out to those seated at tables near the stage, instructing them to throw them at her once she gave them a cue.
Later, claiming that that the show’s producers insisted that she could only wear her gown for the opening number, she removed it, leaving her wearing only a slip. Then she handed it over to a Cabaret staff member who played along. From that point on, the audience not only caught onto the wacky character Meow Meow had established but also bought into the interactive, audience participation-filled evening that lay ahead.
And what a mad cap romp of an evening it turned out to be. Meow Meow, accompanied by pianist Lance Horne, an Emmy Award-winning composer/lyrist, performed a multilingual set that included such songs as “There is No Cure for L’amour,” “On Broadway,” “The Love Market,” “Mr. Smith” and “Not About Love.”
Further demonstrating her versatility, Meow Meow also sang “Hotel Amour” which she co-wrote with Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini, during which she revealed vulnerability and demonstrated her legitimacy as a talented singer who possesses impeccable musicality and rich expressiveness.
Ultimately, however, there were few serious moments in the show as B-list Meow Meow, without breaking character, improvised tongue-in-cheek banter with the audience during which she continually complained about the Cabaret’s low budget production values, requiring her to bring her own lights and even a smoke machine—props she used with hilarious results.
Venturing into the audience during her act, Meow Meow brought unsuspecting good sports up onto the stage to perform two songs with her. Charmed into submission were two men who hugged her torso as she camped it up in Jacques Brel’s tragic “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” Later she coerced four other men into supporting and lifting her during a quasi-dance number she choreographed on the spot while she sang Astor Piazzolla’s “Che Tango Che.”
One of the evening’s most remarkable and never before seen moments occurred when Meow Meow convinced much of the good-natured audience to gather in front of the stage in order to catch her as she crowd surfed during “In This City,” her closing number. It was one of the most extraordinary spectacles ever witnessed by this writer who has covered the Cabaret throughout its 5 year history and certainly one for the books of the genteel Columbia Club which was established in 1889.
Meow Meow once again showed her authentic, softer side during her encore when she sang the melancholy “Be Careful” by Patty Griffin. Carrying a small portable spotlight which she shined onto her face, the seasoned entertainer roved throughout the audience before making her exit into the Cabaret’s outer lobby where she ended the song. It was a satisfying conclusion to a one of a kind theatrical event that will long be remembered not only for its originality but also for the rare talents of the charismatic performer who conceived it.
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