The Incomparable Kiki & Herb
Robert Kent goes to a beauty-salon source for the scoop on Kiki and her co-dependent accompanist, Herb.
Steinman's megalomaniacal ballad--in addition to songs from Wu-Tang Clan, Suicidal Tendencies, Nirvana, Prince and Kate Bush--is tailor-made for the poignant style of Kiki and her co-dependent accompanist, Herb. Created by Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman, the world-wise Kiki & Herb can even find pathos and passion within bubblegum lyrics penned for teenagers Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Ultimately, the magic that is Kiki & Herb lies within their interpretation of the material rather than the song itself.
"I could explain the theory behind Kiki & Herb. I'd tell you the history of cabaret and how pop culture has made it nearly impossible for the art form to continue, but that ends up sounding so pretentious," says Bond via cell phone while having a day of beauty at Mud Honey. "It's where all the 'rock stars' get their hair done," adds Bond, quickly changing the subject.
In their latest creation, Playing for Time, they reminisce about a concert tour that took them across Europe and finally to Hitler's birthplace. As in previous productions (Have Another, Do They Know It's Christmas and Now, Where Were We), the current show offers fascinating glimpses into the fictitious lives of the couple who met in a mental institution and went on to headline cabaret rooms throughout the world. "I've spent days and years in this woman's life!" claims Bond, getting ready to be shampooed. "It's fun to make it real for me. During opening night of Playing for Time, I threw in little shockers about Kiki--some even surprised Herb!"
Bond and Mellman make each unscripted show a unique experience. "We know what songs we're going to perform and have an outline for the banter, but we don't actually write a script. I prefer to improvise--I do riffs on the dialogue," explains Bond. "It's like 'jazz theater!'" Most of the music is selected from a cassette prepared by Mellman; Bond offers a few musical preferences and then they conscientiously proceed to select the songs that best fit the theme of the evening being planned. "Nothing is off limits," acknowledges the performer. "We go through a lot and say 'No, no, no.'" Ultimately, it's left to theatergoers to decide what works and what doesn't. "The audience is our director!" Bond reveals.
Between New York performances of Playing for Time, audiences from Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami will be able to "direct" the twosome as they embark on a tour sponsored by Alizé. "It will be interesting to see how people respond," remarks Bond as the beautician teases his hair. "I'm looking forward to doing the tour, but honestly, I'd rather not travel. If I never had to leave New York, I'd be happy!"