By Jessica Diggs
The Mondavi Center for Performing Arts will present Australian performer Meow Meow in her self-titled show, “Meow Meow,” on Friday, March 31. Starring one of the “Top Performers of the Year” by The New Yorker, “Meow Meow” offers an eclectic 1920s performance style with comedy, drama, politics, and songs that range from French chanson to modern classics.
To describe “Meow Meow” as “unconventional” would be an understatement. At its simplest, the show offers a unique blend of nostalgia and topical commentary.
Meow Meow, whose real name is Melissa Madden Gray, spoke to Las Vegas Weekly recently about her performance style.
“I guess the subversion of entertainment is what I like,” she said. “Something that gives you all the satisfaction of comedy and sexiness and beautiful music, but it’s got a little bit of subversive political edge to it as well.”
The singer, however, couldn’t share much about how her theatrical persona came to be.
“I don’t remember my origin story,” she said recently to Tucson Weekly. “[The reason] I live in this heightened way is so people project on [me] more, and I like that rather than limiting myself to a uniform that’s still a costume.”
While the artist’s theatrical offerings are unique within popular entertainment, Meow Meow has clear inspirations from well-known and beloved female performers of the past.
In a piece by Stephen Holden, the writer called the retro artist, “a spiritual offspring” of Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles from the play “Cabaret,” while drawing comparisons between the Aussie singer and “German chanteuse Ute Lemper.”
Also in the Las Vegas Weekly interview, the singer said that she has been compared to the legendary 20th-century queen of burlesque striptease, Gypsy Rose Lee.
But Meow Meow made one thing clear on that point: “I’ve got all my clothes on!” she said. Still, Meow Meow’s vintage vibe is in large part due to her love of the past.
“I’m a history girl…I’m very modern in my performance, but I do love the history of things.”
But be warned: “Meow Meow” is not for those who enjoy the predictable.
Meow Meow’s shows are notable for their inclusion of the audience, as the artist engages—and in some descriptions, terrorizes—onlookers.
In a review, KQED wrote, “…if you’re a theatergoer who believes cabaret should be thrilling, risk-taking and interactive, the Australian-born cabaret performer Meow Meow never fails to deliver,”
Known for crowd surfing, the singer has earned the memorable (if somewhat unfortunate) title of queen of the “kamikaze cabaret.” This title is also a reference to her apparently unscripted performing style that, in reality, is a well-thought-out machine that invites her audience to get involved.
In a profile done by The Guardian, an anecdote describes one instance where Meow Meow appeared to forget the words to a song. Instead of remaining silent, a member of the audience helped her out.
But in many ways, this is all part of a sly parody of a bygone generation Meow Meow embodies.
In an article covering her performance at Lincoln Center, The New Republic wrote: “What she did was perform a performance of a cabaret show, and in the second layer of creative interpretation she embedded a critique of the dull glamour and the dim high-mindedness of old-school, old-money cocktail-society entertainment.”
Tickets for “Meow Meow” are now available through the Mondavi Center website.
Faculty and staff can purchase tickets at a reduced price using a special promo code provided by the Staff and Faculty Health and Well-Being Program, online or by phone, until March 30.
Learn more about Meow Meow at her official webpage.