Concert Hall, January 22
What to give the girl who has everything? How about a symphony orchestra? Or at least most of one, to flesh out her trio, somewhat; to make the band almost as big as her hair – if still nowhere near as big as her persona. Melissa Madden Gray’s Meow Meow is Dame Edna-big, and boasts as many talents as costumes.
With members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra awaiting their opening cue from conductor (and serial Meow Meow collaborator) Iain Grandage, Ms Meow arrived “lost” in one of the Concert Hall’s boxes. She then marauded over people scrunched in the stalls, looking for the non-existent middle aisle, and this, it turned out (after she was finally hoisted indecorously on stage by willing audience hands), was all an outlandish lead-in to a mangled and abbreviated Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
Uproarious comedy blitzed most of the show’s first half. “Did anyone bring any atmosphere?” she demanded in her most withering voice, and when no one obliged with an affirmative she produced a flashlight-sized dry-ice machine, and waved it about herself pathetically. Then she dragged two men up on stage to caress her while she sang the most appallingly bastardised and deliciously vulgar version of Ne Me Quitte Pas. With anyone else this would have been an unpardonable trespass upon a favourite song. Ms Meow, it seems, is easy to forgive.
By now one was thinking that broad humour, fearless audience interaction and razor-sharp ad-libbing was the show, with singing an accessory (like heels and feathers). She kyboshed that idea by delivering a spearing reading of Brecht and Weill’s Surabaya Johnny. This was of Ute Lemper quality (and I know no higher praise), only utterly her own, underpinned by a thrilling orchestration full of internal frictions. Then she was crowd-surfing her hilarious way about 15 rows into the stalls and back to the stage by way of winding up a 75-minute first half.
Perhaps the show should have ended there, because as entertaining as Act Two was, nothing showed off her artistry like Surabaya Johnny, and some of the comedy started to feel just a little like a joke you’ve heard before. Then again I’ve never heard Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini sung in German as a Weimar cabaret song, or in Mandarin, or as an avant-garde piece with a splendid cacophony – Pandemonium, no less – from the SSO. But this show was within in shouting distance of having no flat spots. It merely needed a trim. Then again, Ms Meow’s flat spots are more entertaining than most people’s star turns.