by Michael Buzzelli
Picture it, Germany in the waning days of the Weimar Republic, those bawdy, decadent days of Isherwood’s “I am a Camera,” which later became the framework for the Kander and Ebb musical “Cabaret.” It’s easy to picture Meow Meow in a smoky bar* in 1933 Berlin, a slender brown cigarillo clutched between her index and forefinger, standing next to a polished, black Baby Grand, music pouring out of her throat as effortlessly as the beer and wine are dispensed throughout a dark, dank club.
* Side note: Cigarettes are verboten in the Greer Cabaret.
Meow Meow, the rechristened Melissa Madden Gray, is a vamp of the highest order. This wild woman is part Patsy Stone (“AbFab”), part Sally Bowles(of the aforementioned “Cabaret”) part Joan Collins, mashed into the slight, pliable body of Lorene Yarnell (of the mime duo Shields and Yarnell) with a coif envied only by Roseanne Roseannadanna.
Meow Meow sings a Berthold Brecht tune in the original German. It’s not a one-off. The sultry, sequined singer crooned mostly in German with a soupçon of English thrown in. There were no subtitles but she did provide a thick copy of the English-to-German Dictionary for those brave enough to glance at the voluminous tome.
Normally, the guttural sounds of the German language grate, as if someone with a dry cough is trying to express phlegm, but, somehow, Meow Meow made the lyrics sound melodious.
The post-post-modern cabaret artist sang lyrics, though over one hundred-years-old, seemed relevant today.
Politicians are magicians
Who make swindles disappear
The bribes they are taking
The deals they are making
Never reach the public’s ear
The left betrays, the right dismays
The country’s broke – and guess who pays?
But tax each swindle in the making
Profits will be record-breaking
Everyone swindles some
So vote for who will steal for you.
Meow Meow is a ribald revolutionary reminding the country that Nationalism is on the rise. She is an impudent muse of the Kabaret der Komiker, a champion of the Dadaists.
Several farcical moments brought the audience into fits of laughter, including a brief point where she read a – let’s call it a – poem that would make Sally Albright (of “Harry and Sally”) blush.
At one point, Meow Meow summoned participants to the stage, dressed them in DIY hazmat suits (i.e. face masks, plastic gloves and Glad garbage bags) and surfed over top her ersatz backup dancers in awkward balletic gyrations.
At the tail end of the show, Meow Meow launched into a teary-eyed tribute of her friend, Barry Humphries (best known as by the stage persona of Dame Edna Everage). It was a poignant recollection of her dear friend. She closed the show belting a brilliant unpublished song from a long-dead German composer.
Hey! If the Beatles can release a song this week, anyone’s music can come back to life.
Personal note: Meow Meow is the most cabaret cabaret I’ve ever seen in the Greer Cabaret.
Meow Meow is a wonderful evening of entertainment, but it’s not a break from the bleak troubles of the outside world, but a satirical poke, a strangely effervescent warning of dark times ahead. As Dame Shirley Bassey would say, “They say the next big thing is here, that the revolution’s near, but to me it seems quite clear – that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”
The revolution has begun.
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Cabaret Series is at the Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For upcoming events, please click here.