Bay Area Theatre Review: AN AUDIENCE WITH MEOW MEOW (Berkeley Rep)

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by Jim Allen on September 14, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

THE CAT’S MEOW MEOW: PURRRRRFECT

When you hear the words “performance art,” do you envision a motionless Marina Abramovic allowing a 10-foot boa constrictor to wrap itself around her head? Well, prepare to have your preconceptions, and your mind, blown away by the fabulous Meow Meow.  This gorgeous and accomplished singer, dancer, librettist, lyricist, comedienne, and actor has collaborated with her fellow performers, musicians, and Meow Meow stars in the world premiere of AN AUDIENCE WITH MEOW MEOW at Berkeley Repacclaimed playwright/director Emma Rice (The Wild Bride, Tristan & Yseult, Brief Encounter) to present An Audience with Meow Meow at Berkeley Rep. A melding of Joan Collins, Lady Gaga, Lucille Ball, and Liza Minnelli on steroids, Meow Meow is as uncategorizable as she is dazzlingly unpredictable. She has taken performance art to an entirely new level while simultaneously lampooning the form itself.

The prodigious scenic and costume designer Neil Murray welcomes us with a spectacular and translucent grand drape constructed of various layers of rich purple-and-red fabric with splashes of gold and a massive, metallic red “M” in the center. The entertainment immediately soars with a VERY glitzy and hilarious opening number: “Tonight I’m Yours” (Iain Grandage, music, Meow Meow, lyrics). Performed by the Divine Miss MM and her hunky Broadway Babies (back-up dancers and singers Michael Balderrama and Jonathan Spooner), it brought to mind a multi-million-dollar Vegas revue crossed with a Weimar era cabaret.

Meow Meow stars in the world premiere of AN AUDIENCE WITH MEOW MEOW at Berkeley Repertory.

Without giving too much away, An Audience with Meow Meow, the “play,” is about just that, the show itself, which jumps the tracks in more ways than one could imagine during its briskly paced, cleverly written 90-minute running time. Just when you think you know where Meow Meow’s metatheatrics are headed, she crushes you in her warm embrace and seduces you into more twists and turns than Alice discovered down the rabbit hole.

Dancers Michael Balderrama and Bob Gaynor lift Meow Meow in the world premiere of AN AUDIENCE WITH MEOW MEOW at Berkeley Rep.

Occasionally, the extraordinary onstage musicians (Russ Gold, Jessica Ivry, Pat Moran, and Music Supervisor/Conductor/Arranger, the über-talented Lance Horne) overwhelmed Meow Meow’s vocals, making it difficult to catch some of her lyrics. Hopefully, gifted sound designer Simon Baker will fix that posthaste.

Meow Meow stars in the world premiere of AN AUDIENCE WITH MEOW MEOW at Berkeley Rep.

Despite the occasional missed word, Meow Meow consistently personalizes every song, superbly interpreting the lyric, and always singing to us, never at us. Rarely have I seen a performer connect with an audience on this level. And lest one think of her as basically a comic/campy performer, some of the most powerful and impactful moments of the evening were during her intimate, low-key songs, during which she displayed true authenticity and depth.

Meow Meow is flanked by her two dancing boys Michael Balderrama (left) and Bob Gaynor (right) in the world premiere of AN AUDIENCE WITH MEOW MEOW at Berkeley Rep.The production design is stunning, but Alexander V. Nichols’ intricate and spellbinding lighting design blew me away, and Geoff Hoyle, of SF’s own Pickle Family Circus, offers his indispensable guidance with the show’s well-timed physical comedy. No doubt his job was made all the easier by the fact that Meow Meow is one of the bravest and most uncompromising performers ever to grace a stage; there’s nothing she won’t do to entertain and enthrall her audience.

An Audience with Meow Meow is one of those unique theatrical events that come along all too rarely. This special experience, one truly shared between artist and audience, is love at first sight.  Before friends start tossing favorite-moment spoilers at you, don’t miss the opportunity to avail yourself of this series of adventures, and step through the looking-glass with Meow Meow. You’ll be so glad you did.

Dancers Michael Balderrama and Bob Gaynor partner with Meow Meow in the world premiere of AN AUDIENCE WITH MEOW MEOW at Berkeley Rep.

photos courtesy of kevinberne.com

An Audience with Meow Meow
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street in Berkeley
scheduled to end on October 19, 2013
for tickets, call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org

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