Kiki is a boozed-up, washed up 66-ish female lounge singer with a maniacal energy and a pained smile. The other half of the act is no slouch either. Kenny Mellman--who embodies the role of Kiki's gay, longterm accompanist, Herb--is a talented pianist and singer who provides musical underscoring to all of Kiki's rants and raves. One of my favorite sequences in the dispossessed duo's new show, Kiki & Herb: Stop, Drop & Roll, has Herb quietly singing the theme song to Free to Be...You and Me as Kiki talks about the dysfunctional relationships she has with her children.
Kiki and Herb draw inspiration from a range of unexpected musical sources. In this show, you'll be treated to renditions of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," "Open Arms" by Journey, "Cherish" by The Association, and Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away." An encore medley also has the pair sampling Mary J. Blige's "Deep Inside," Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield," and "I'm Miss World" by Hole. But the arrangements are, shall we say, less than traditional. Though the pair can sing quite sweetly, at any given moment they're likely to twist and warp a tune until they're screaming the lyrics and pounding the piano keys with a vengeance.
Interspersed with the songs are Kiki's tragic monologues about her life, her career, and anything else that happens to be on her mind. Much of her patter comes out in slurred mumbles that sound as if the performer is drunk--and she very well may be! Regardless, it's devastatingly funny. The rapport Kiki shares with both the audience and her faithful companion Herb is positively delightful.
Over the last few years, Kiki and Herb have developed quite a following; some of their more high-profile fans include Laurie Anderson, Michael Stipe, Kevin Costner, Sandra Bernhard, and Monica Lewinsky. Their sold-out shows seem to attract a young, beautiful, trendy crowd. Making note of this, Kiki remarks: "Between the AIDS and the Alzheimer's we don't have a fan over 40." Politically incorrect? Unbelievably insensitive? In very bad taste? You bet. And we love her for it.
If you've never seen a Kiki and Herb show (or even if you have), here are a few tips to help you get the most out of the experience: (1) Arrive at least an hour early; the line is hellaciously long and, once you're in, you can bide the time with a meal or an overpriced drink. (2) Be prepared for the show to start at least a half hour late; because the line is so long, it takes a while for those with RSVPs to get in. I arrived at 10pm for a 10:30 show, and I got in at 10:45. (3) Expect audience interaction. Need I say more? (4) Don't get too attached to your drink; Kiki gets thirsty. (5) When Kiki stands on your table, get the dishes the hell out of the way. She doesn't stop whatever she's doing--which is usually an improvisational table dance. For the safety of everyone around, it's better to stack any plates, glasses, or other items on your lap. (6) Know when to shut up and let Kiki sing; you don't want to be on the receiving end of her temper.
Kiki and Herb: Stop, Drop & Roll may not be the duo's best-written show (my personal favorite was their 1998 Christmas spectacular, Do You Hear What I Hear?). A monologue about Kiki's friend, Bambi, goes on a little too long. And I sorely missed stories of Kiki and Herb's shared tragic past, which were a major part of past shows. Still, their latest effort is well worth the admission price, and the performers are always a joy to watch.