Thursday, June 29, 2006

Meow Meow’s Beyond Glamour: The Absinthe Tour, part of alt.cabaret/not at Sydney Opera House (Friday June 30)

UPDATE, OCTOBER 2007: BEYOND BEYOND GLAMOUR: THE REMIX is at the Spiegeltent in Melbourne, for the International Arts Festival, from October 17 to October 23. Wednesday to Sunday at 9.30pm, then Monday and Tuesday at 11:30pm.

“Making people laugh is the best thing that I can think of doing. Making people laugh and making people think.”

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 15, 2006: Melissa Madden Gray can be seen in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Tomfoolery -- performing songs by Tom Lehrer -- from tonight through to December 16 at the Arts Centre Playhouse.

Melissa Madden Gray is to Meow Meow what Michelle Pfeiffer is to Catwoman, not so much an alter-ego as an altered ego. They’re both sexy as hell, but you’ve gotta make your choice: blonde or brunette? Law- and fine arts-graduate homecoming queen or Parisian Eurotramp? Do you like dancer’s high-arched trainers or stainless steel stilettos?

International singing sensation Meow Meow is in Sydney this week to do to local audiences what the French did to Mururoa Atoll... test some thermonuclear material out on it.

Meow Meow has become something of a sustaining role for the “blonde and booby-looking” Madden Gray. Meow is a blowsy, temperamental, “grotesque-slash-sexy” Eurotrash cabaret singer. “Through her own belief in her own mythology, she creates it,” says Madden Gray.

Meow sings crazy French ’60s pop songs, Piazzolla tangos and Kurt Weill... all the songs that Madden Gray loves singing. But then you are just as likely to see Madden Gray singing in a bog standard musical (she was Hedy La Rue in the Production Company’s How to Succeed in Business) as you are in a Mikel Rouse talk-show opera.

Days after a one-off performance in Melbourne at the L’Oreal Fashion Festival Gala, Madden Gray sang and danced Piazzolla tangos at the Berlin Philharmonic’s thousand-seat Kammermusiksaal. She has performed in a SoHo shop window (on Broadway, of course, darling!) flanked by go-go dancers, lectured at Princeton, performed for some Perth school children, and kicked up her long long legs in Shanghai at Michelle Garnaut’s Glamour Bar. Her accompanist, there, was legendary downtown avant-jazz pianist Anthony Coleman, who has worked with everyone from John Zorn to Iggy Pop.

Don’t be deceived by the gorgeous Karl Giant portraits. Meow Meow is as dangerous as Karen Finley doused with honey. Beware her sting. Madden Grays honours thesis was on performance art and pornography, and Annie Sprinkle in particular. She has also studied performance art in Berlin.

“Performing Meow Meow is another way of deconstructing that traditional cabaret repertoire and [mixing] it with an avant-garde sound. She’s very extreme but she’s also very accessible. She’s a clown, really. And people can tap into the funny side of her or the bleak side of her.”

“She’s like an old-time cabaret performer who works in multimedia. She’s grappling with the death of one form of entertainment, her continuing compulsion to create and her absolute need for celebrity and adoration. But there’s a genuine passion for music that she sings. That’s real.” Madden Gray is no stranger to the Opera House Studio, where she performs Friday night as part of the alt.cabaret/not series.

For a few mad days in January 2003, Madden Gray was making sketch comedy for the Seven Network in Melbourne, by day, and performing in Max Lyandvert’s “holocaust opera” Close Your Little Eyes in Sydney, by night. “It was quite grueling because I was rehearsing them both at the same time.”

Gruelling and more than a little surreal.

“I had just done a pastiche of Ursula Andress on the beach for the opening titles of [TV show] Big Bite, then had to race to the airport. I arrived for a costume fitting at the Opera House with fake brown tan and sparkles on me, and salt in my hair. It was hilarious.”

Meow Meow is a persona that Madden Gray dons for hours or even days at a time. She’s gone to a wedding, in Australia, as Meow. She even ended up at the 5oth birthday party of Vagina Monologue-author Eve Ensler as her brunette doppelganger. Oddly, Meow Meow is biggest in two of the world’s notoriously humourless markets: the USA and Germany.

“Maybe she’s easy to perform there because the taboos are greater. It’s easier to shock, or titillate or to play with it than somewhere else.”

Meow Meow is a political lightning rod, too. Heckled in America for being French, post 9/11, Meow Meow is also the darling of the smoker set in New York for daring to chain smoke on-stage. “I’ll usually have three in my hand. People congratulate me for flouting the [strict New York] laws, but they’re theatrical cigarettes. I don’t actually smoke!”

“I can’t control how people react. What I think is funny, you think is political. It’s like that line: what turns me on is erotic, what turns you on is pornographic.”
“The politics of performance are interesting to me, but I’m very aware that I’m... I worry about the theatre and music becoming, you know... I don’t want it to be for a small number in the know, I do want to be performing and entertaining people. Otherwise it’s irrelevant. You’ve gotta be making people laugh or think.

[Meow Meow] to me, has been a really fantastic vehicle. Aside from the other fantastic work I get to do with ensembles. Using comedy and this grotesque-slash-sexy character has completely opened up the possibilities of what I can say on stage...”

Meow Meow’s Beyond Glamour: The Absinthe Tour is the first performance in the Sydney Opera House’s cabaret season, alt.cabaret/not.

There's more information at the Opera House web site.

All photographs by Karl Giant. (Click on the images to see full-size.)

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Blogger Ramona said...

amazing blog Mr Boyd.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Please, call me 'sir'... (Joke!)

Thanks ma'am. Imagine me blushing.


2:51 PM  
Anonymous genevieve said...

Wow - I must catch young Meow if she gets her Piazzolla tango show on in Melbourne, or anything else for that matter. (Fantastic photos too.)

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love meow meow and her performance, energy

5:34 PM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Mmmm, so do I. She never lets up, does she?

I believe Miss Meow opens in New York tonight, your time. [September 23] Have you seen her do her stuff recently? (You're in Oregon, no?) If so, tell all! :)

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Spiegeltent @ Fulton Fish Markets
South Street (under the Brooklyn Bridge) New York, NY 10038

Performance Dates: 9/23/2006 to 9/30/2006

The Absinthe Tour

2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Earlier this year, I was in Adelaide at the same hotel as the delightful Miss Madden-Gray. We agreed that we should all head over to the Festival Centre at the same time, and at the appointed hour my friend and I waited in the lobby for her appearance. Alas for us, when the elevator chimed and the doors slid open it was Miss Meow who exited, devastating as usual, carrying two costume bags.

The only indication that she had noted our presence came after she had already walked halfway across the foyer - when, without breaking stride, she simply dropped the bags and continued out the door. The front desk couldn't have been more appalled as we struggled with the diva's luggage in her wake. It was exactly as it should have been, and remains one of my favourite memories of this year.

2:17 AM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Whereas I'm not fit to carry her bags!

I have carried Meow Meow, however. During a performance at Dantes... had those legs wrapped around my neck. She did an Iggy Pop-style stage dive [I typed stage diva, how apposite!] from my shoulders.

I needed chiropractic... and psychotherapy. [sigh]

P.S. I'm sure those bags ended up in the boot of my car in Adelaide! (We need to compare diaries!)

2:29 AM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Oh, and Meow Meow has been making the odd guest appearance in La Clique at the Spiegeltent in Melbourne and has a return season coming up at the Sydney Opera House Studio in February 2007, I think.

2:35 AM  

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