A Freewheeling Trot Around the Globe: Meow Meow, in American Songbook Series at Lincoln Center

Meow Meow
The New York Times

APRIL 1, 2013

By Stephen Holden

The term “kamikaze cabaret” has been applied to the charming, shape-shifting diva Meow Meow, who performed at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse on Saturday evening as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series. But the suicidal implications of the word “kamikaze” were only faint inflections in the vibrant performance of this British, Australian-born firecracker, who sang in several languages with a first-rate trio that included her musical director, Lance Horne, on piano; Yair Evine on cello and guitar; and David Berger on drums.

Meow Meow, a k a Melissa Madden Gray, is a spiritual offspring of Sally Bowles (via Liza Minnelli) from “Cabaret,” filtered through the German chanteuse Ute Lemper, who established cabaret’s flourishing neo-Weimarian wing in New York at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater. By neo-Weimarian, I mean entertainment that is programmatically transgressive in breaching the fourth wall and in subverting gender and sexual stereotypes in an unspoken agreement with the audience that, at least in attitude, if not in practice, everyone present is a sympathetic fellow outlaw.

Meow Meow has a stronger, more flexible voice than Ms. Lemper, but lacks Ms. Lemper’s ferocious concentration on politics and history. Unlike Ms. Lemper’s performances, her show was less a seminar on pop internationalism than a freewheeling example of it.

Her act celebrated a far-reaching cosmopolitanism that erases boundaries between cultures and languages. Songs were subjected to a kind of attitudinal food processing, in which her language and tone of voice could change at any moment.

Her approach was extremely theatrical but never overbearing. Brecht-Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny,” a psychological litmus test for any singer, began with coy, blasé accusations by a jilted narrator whose composure was stripped away, verse by verse, until the character was completely unstrung. On the playful side, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” became a zany, hyperkinetic novelty that continually shifted tempo and emphasis.

The most beautiful moment, “Hotel Amour,” written by Meow Meow and Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini, was a delicate, wistful reflection on a futile search for love that melted your heart.

Read the full review.