― Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 19 July 2006 13:27 (9 years ago) Permalink
Kiki & Herb’: The Road to Catharsis With Those 2 Immortals By BEN BRANTLEY
That’s one gorgeous set of teardrops that the immortal Kiki DuRane is wearing for her mind-popping Broadway debut. Kiki, a molting songbird for all seasons, and Herb, her happily suffering shadow and accompanist, opened last night at the Helen Hayes Theater in “Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway,” a hyper-magnified cabaret concert that has the heat and dazzle of great balls of fire.
Actually, since this transcendental lounge act is fond of biblical imagery, make that great swords of fire — or, if you prefer, a burning bush.
But about those teardrops. Whenever Kiki tilts her face upward, toward her key light — and like any self-adoring goddess, she does that a lot — her eyes brim with the most brilliant pools of brine you have ever seen. Well, not to spoil the illusion, but those ain’t tears: they’re rhinestones (or something like), strategically glued just beneath her lower lashes.
It is a tribute to the perverse showbiz genius of Kiki and Herb that once you twig on to this shameless trompe l’oeil, you don’t feel merely amused. Nor do you think that the singer has been trading only in paper-moon emotions, or making fun of those who do, as she croons her whiskey-pickled way through bathetic ballads and angry anthems.
Those artificial tears are a comic grace note, sure, but they are also a totem for feelings of devastating depth and substance. And a performance that should, by rights, be just a night of imitative song and shtick from another pair of happy high-campers from the alternative club scene becomes irresistibly full-bodied art.
Fakery is often more real than reality in the glamorous and tawdry world of theater. I should probably state, for the uninitiated, that the ultrawomanly Kiki is channeled by a man named Justin Bond. Herb is the alter ego of a truly inspired pop musicologist named Kenny Mellman.
And while Kiki and Herb claim to be as old as the hills, Mr. Bond and Mr. Mellman are only in their 40’s and 30’s, respectively. The roadmaps of geriatric lines on their faces have been drawn with the blunt bogusness of children portraying grandparents in a school play. And by the way, Kiki and Herb now say the reason they didn’t die, as they had promised, after their farewell concert at Carnegie Hall in 2004 is that they can’t. The reasons are complicated, but let’s just say they involve their having been present at the birth of Jesus.
Believe it or not, that makes sense. In their decade as one of downtown’s savviest acts, Kiki and Herb have always traded on the reassuring illusion of immortality conferred by deeply stylish cabaret performers of advanced age.
You know, the kind you stumble upon after midnight, improbably drawing oxygen from smoky tunes and smoky rooms in bars found everywhere from the inns Ramada to the hotels Carlyle and Algonquin. When Kiki sings — and her numbers go from Eisenhower-era velvet (“Make Yourself Comfortable”) to punk-era tarpaper (the Cure’s “Let’s Go to Bed”) — she suggests some wondrous hybrid of Marianne Faithfull, Elaine Stritch, Patti Smith and Kitty Carlisle Hart. As with those very different women, the point is never the prettiness of the voice but the history behind it and the passion to endure that vibrates within.
There is also the vibrato (real or metaphoric) of suffering, that public overdose of private pain that made Judy Garland a figure of such religious adoration. The references to Jesus in Kiki’s spiels aren’t inappropriate, since Mr. Bond and Mr. Mellman appreciate the role of the self-lacerating performer who cathartically embodies the anguish of his audience. (“Kiki and Herb Will Die for You” is the title of their last CD, a recording of their Carnegie Hall concert.)
Between songs, Kiki describes her early history with an uncaring mother and abusive father (“I always said if you weren’t molested as a child, you must have been an ugly kid”); her childhood in a Pennsylvania orphanage, where she met Herb, a gay Jewish foundling; the seesaw career of high and low living, institutionalizations and shifting musical fashions; and the death of her little daughter, Coco, which Kiki describes while staring into the murky depths of her glass of Canadian Club.
Famous names are tossed into the swirling mix. Kiki danced in burlesque nightclubs with Maya Angelou; she and Herb were supposed to have performed the theme song for Mel Gibson’s Holocaust series on television until his arrest for drunk driving put an end to the project; world leaders (you can imagine which ones) are gutted, roasted and fried.
This sounds like regulation tacky countercultural standup, laced with the overemotional kitsch that drag queens borrow from old movies, right? That sensibility is certainly evoked by Scott Pask’s set — a bizarre sylvan landscape that suggests Salvador Dalí working in Las Vegas and includes a blasted tree that Kiki perches on to sing (and drink) — and Marc Happel’s Loretta Young-meets-Cher costumes.
But like most of the best artists of their generation, Mr. Bond and Mr. Mellman have tunneled under the ironic distance that seems to have been their birthright to reclaim the passion beneath the pose. The musical stylings of Herb (whose liquidly bobbing head and blissed-out expression suggest that his nervous system is located in the strings of his piano) and the vocals of Kiki are radioactive with an angry sorrow, ecstasy and cosmic fatigue so profound that it turns into cosmic punch-drunkenness. They use the surface of camp as a tool for detonating surfaces. (Bette Midler surprised and seduced audiences with just such a style as a singer at gay clubs 30-some years ago.)
It’s a musical approach that finds a common denominator in songs made famous by artists like Public Enemy (quaintly presented as an example of folk music) and the Scissors Sisters and sentimental narratives like “One Tin Soldier” and Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne.” And who else would segue from the masochistic power ballad “Total Eclipse of the Heart” into a musical setting of William Butler Yeats’s “Second Coming”?
If the idea of the end of the world keeps creeping into the show, that’s appropriate to these times, isn’t it? But Kiki and Herb have been around long enough to know that the threat of doomsday is old news and that life — dammit all — goes on.
At one point Kiki looks into the audience and wonders who on earth is out there. This is Broadway, after all, the place where tourists come from around the country with their families to be entertained. “Do any of you have a family?” she asks of the crowd and concludes that this must be an audience of foundlings.
Maybe. But remember that the subtitle of the show, which runs only through Sept. 10, is “Alive on Broadway,” not merely “Live.” Though they may disappear when the lights go down, and the makeup comes off, Kiki and Herb onstage are Alive with a capital A, with all the human vitality and fallibility that that implies. This is more than can be said for the synthetically enhanced automatons appearing in most Broadway musicals.
KIKI & HERBAlive on Broadway
Created and executed by Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman; sets by Scott Pask; lighting by Jeff Croiter; costumes by Marc Happel; sound by Brett Jarvis; general manager, Foster Entertainment; production management, Aurora Productions; production stage manager, Peter Hanson. Presented by David J. Foster, Jared Geller, Ruth Hendel, Jonathan Reinis Inc., Billy Zavelson, Jamie Cesa, Anne Strickland Squadron and Jennifer Manocherian in association with Gary Allen and Melvin Honowitz. At the Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200. Through Sept. 10. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
WITH: Justin Bond (Kiki) and Kenny Mellman (Herb).
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
― Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 16 August 2006 19:56 (9 years ago) Permalink
― Sir Dr. Rev. PappaWheelie Jr. II of The Third Kind (PappaWheelie 2), Wednesday, 16 August 2006 20:36 (9 years ago) Permalink
― davidsim (davidsim), Friday, 13 October 2006 11:30 (8 years ago) Permalink
I assumed they were gonna do Christmas stuff in Dec, burt don't see it yet. :p
― Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 November 2006 16:27 (8 years ago) Permalink
― gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Thursday, 2 November 2006 17:25 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 November 2006 17:53 (8 years ago) Permalink
Among the new (to me) adds to the repertoire:
The Indelicates - "Waiting for Pete Doherty to Die"
― Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 16 November 2006 14:36 (8 years ago) Permalink
Now I just have to figure out if it translates to record well...
― Forksclovetofu (Forksclovetofu), Monday, 15 January 2007 19:03 (8 years ago) Permalink
But I bet someday people are going to trade recordings of K&H live the way they do with Bill Hicks or Andy Kaufman recordings now.
― Douglas (Douglas), Monday, 15 January 2007 19:46 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Dr Morbius, Thursday, 10 May 2007 16:39 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Ned Raggett, Thursday, 10 May 2007 16:43 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Dr Morbius, Thursday, 10 May 2007 16:57 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Ned Raggett, Thursday, 10 May 2007 17:02 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Matos W.K., Thursday, 10 May 2007 21:30 (8 years ago) Permalink
― poortheatre, Thursday, 10 May 2007 23:00 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Dr Morbius, Thursday, 17 May 2007 15:10 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Ned Raggett, Thursday, 17 May 2007 15:15 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Dr Morbius, Thursday, 17 May 2007 15:23 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Catsupppppppppppppp dude 茄蕃, Thursday, 17 May 2007 17:46 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Dr Morbius, Thursday, 17 May 2007 19:10 (8 years ago) Permalink
― forksclovetofu, Thursday, 17 May 2007 21:44 (8 years ago) Permalink
gr8 seeing you forks! Did you have anything to do with our ticket snafu getting cleared up? I wasn't sure.
I didn't recall how elaborate K&H's version of "I Was a Maoist Intellectual" is ... the Chelsea boys were baffled.
Also, it's important to know that ass cancer trumps leukemia.
― Dr Morbius, Tuesday, 29 May 2007 14:32 (8 years ago) Permalink
Hey dude, glad you made it out!
Yeah, a thoroughly awesome evening... but LONG!
― forksclovetofu, Tuesday, 29 May 2007 14:35 (8 years ago) Permalink
but at least Ju8t1n was relatively s0b3r!
I think I saw them go 3 hours at least once at Fez.
― Dr Morbius, Tuesday, 29 May 2007 14:38 (8 years ago) Permalink
Defeated for a Tony by a DUMMY!
That's too respectable for them anyway.
― Dr Morbius, Tuesday, 12 June 2007 15:12 (8 years ago) Permalink
that shit was not right. I thought they were joking for a hot minute!
― Morley Timmons, Thursday, 14 June 2007 04:39 (8 years ago) Permalink
That was that bullshit.
― forksclovetofu, Thursday, 14 June 2007 05:17 (8 years ago) Permalink
Shoulda pull'd a wu-tang. kiki and herb is for the babies!
― rogermexico., Thursday, 14 June 2007 05:26 (8 years ago) Permalink
Get ready London:
― Ned Raggett, Thursday, 13 September 2007 14:02 (7 years ago) Permalink
thought this was a thread about peaches & herb for a second
― deej, Thursday, 13 September 2007 15:58 (7 years ago) Permalink
Carnegie Hall again in December as well.
― Dr Morbius, Monday, 15 October 2007 17:40 (7 years ago) Permalink
live DVD available Jan. 2:
― Dr Morbius, Friday, 14 December 2007 16:10 (7 years ago) Permalink
Funny thing was I saw Kiki introduce Borts Minorts at a show in SF this past Saturday. Kiki was great, Borts Minorts was not.
― Ned Raggett, Friday, 14 December 2007 16:14 (7 years ago) Permalink
Variety review of Wed night @Carnegie Hall (I skipped):
"If there's a sniper in the audience, I ask only that you kill me now," pleaded Kiki. "Don't make me go through this whole show just to shoot me later."
wtf, identifying "If You Were Born Today" as a Jimmy Eat World song?
― Dr Morbius, Friday, 14 December 2007 16:22 (7 years ago) Permalink
Boy, I would've loved to have seen that.
― forksclovetofu, Friday, 14 December 2007 22:38 (7 years ago) Permalink
Alan Sparhawk somewhere goes NOOOOOO
― Ned Raggett, Friday, 14 December 2007 22:50 (7 years ago) Permalink
I saw them at the Opera House in Sydney for so cheap (esp. considering the insane price of tickets for them in SF the last time around), but strangely the show was almost EXACTLY the same as the one I saw New Year's Eve two years ago.
― Alex in SF, Friday, 14 December 2007 23:30 (7 years ago) Permalink
What little I've heard, I've liked. So where do I start if I want to hear more?
― Mordy, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 05:41 (5 years ago) Permalink
profile in nymag - http://nymag.com/print/?/arts/popmusic/features/justin-bond-2011-5/
― just sayin, Tuesday, 10 May 2011 13:23 (4 years ago) Permalink
just downloaded dendrophile, hadn't heard anything about it. it seems good. different thing than k&h, but good songs and s/he sounds great.
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Wednesday, 11 May 2011 02:09 (4 years ago) Permalink
Kiki'll be having some fun this weekend:
― Ned Raggett, Saturday, 14 January 2012 05:42 (3 years ago) Permalink
Justin is such a fucking rock star.I see Kenny perform at least once a month.
― this is funny u bitter dork (forksclovetofu), Saturday, 14 January 2012 13:45 (3 years ago) Permalink
going to see justin bond @ REDCAT tonight, first time ever! i'm excited
― Prince Rebus (donna rouge), Friday, 17 February 2012 19:12 (3 years ago) Permalink
Justin Vivian Bond begins a yearlong 'retro' at Joe's Pub!
forks, when yer feelin better maybe we could go see the Julie London thing.
― skateboards are the new combover (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 3 September 2015 04:23 (6 hours ago) Permalink