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    Bay Area Cabaret Roars Back with Meow Meow

    By David Landis–

    The venerable Bay Area Cabaret at the Fairmont’s historic Venetian Room is back—with a roar. That roar, of course, being the sultry Australian chanteuse Meow Meow, who took San Francisco by storm in a show that amused, enthralled, captivated, and surprised an audience with her sold-out October 30 show. 

    Bay Area audiences will remember Meow Meow’s successful run at Berkeley Rep 8 years ago or her San Francisco Symphony SoundBox cabaret performance with conductor Edwin Outwater the following year. She’s back, after playing the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the Sydney Opera House, and with the London Philharmonic.

    The recent show that played San Francisco was anything but typical. My friend Lenore Naxon described it as “a mixture of Lotte Lenya and Lucille Ball.”

    “Think of this show as dinner theatre without the dinner,” proclaimed the ebullient Meow Meow (aka Melissa Madden Gray) at the start of the show in her silver-spangled, decadently-deco gown. After chastising patrons for not throwing flowers to welcome her (and then supplying them herself), she supplied props including a life-like mannequin alter-ego double, a self-made revolving stage, and her own smoke machine. A post-modern diva (think the female drag queen you know and love), she has no use for theatre’s fourth wall—and that is a very good thing. She even invited some very amusing onstage audience participation with two patrons, admittedly one of whom included my husband.

    The performance didn’t resort to the easy Broadway bang of audience favorites, but slowly and seductively combined some lesser-known and more popular Weimar songs of Berlin, Kurt Weill, Jacques Brel, Michel Legrand, her own compositions, and those of her Pink Martini partner-in-crime Thomas Lauderdale. She even performed “On Broadway” in French. Along the way, her magical approach slowly but surely enchanted the audience, who suddenly realized the ride they were on was something special.

    The real test, of course, was when she sang. Commanding the room, Meow Meow gave one of the best performances of “Surabaya-Johnny” I’ve ever heard—in German no less, and holding the pauses for what seemed like eternity. She mesmerized the audience: you understood every word, and could have heard a pin drop.

    Emmy-award winning musical director Lance Horne was her talented accompanist extraordinaire, making one piano sound like an entire band. Plus, he’s adorable to boot.

    In one of her songs, Meow Meow sang the lyric, “I lost myself when you switched off the light.” That adeptly described what happened to us. In short, this cat is definitely out of the bag. Let’s hope that producer Marilyn Levinson invites Meow Meow back immediately, if not sooner.

    David Landis studied piano at Northwestern University, worked at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and Ravinia Festival, and also at the San Francisco Symphony. He even once played Lysander in Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A lifelong theatre and cabaret enthusiast, he spends his spare time playing Sondheim songs for himself at home. In his other life, he writes The Gay Gourmet column for the “San Francisco Bay Times.”

    Arts & Entertainment
    Published on November 3, 2022