Meow Meow is a cabaret treasure who could prosper satisfactorily mining the Weimar Period and the Great American songbook. However, she refuses to take the easy road and continues to explore new territory through collaborations with diverse artists from Barry Humphries to Amanda Palmer and the Dresden Dolls. Meow Meow’s latest collaboration for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival with Jherek Bischoff and August Von Trapp is a nine-track song cycle of original songs penned by Bischoff that forms a tribute to Adelaide’s oldest surviving live theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre: Meow Meets the Grand Old Dame – one who is due for an upgrade. So there is perhaps a commercial push behind this show.
Perhaps wary of the gravitas of the song cycle, Meow Meow warmed the audience up for what was to come with her usual amusing schtick and audience participation walking over people’s seats and getting a hapless man in the front row to get her wine and potato chips. Backed by the Orchestra der Kleinen Regiment and the ten child Lilliputian Opera Company, Meow Meow saved the best for first with a song entitled Dancing at the Edge of the World, hearkening back to the theatre’s origins in 1913 as World War I loomed – but with a piercing guitar line that would have fit perfectly on a James Bond movie or a Lee Hazelwood album.
Meow Meow. Photo © Claudio Raschella
The cycle stayed firmly and melodically on track with songs about the Tivoli Circuit, a German juggler living in the United Kingdom who becomes displaced and broken, a visit by the theatre to the local orphanage (cue the ten-child Lilliputian choir) and references to the evergreen 94-year-old Tivoli legend Phyl Skinner.
Last Cigarette was a poignant reminder of the many deaths artists undergo as their powers diminish and Meow Meow and Bischoff combined nicely on the burlesque duet Bluebell in Fairyland. However, like the wooden boat in the centre of stage that was full of costumes and other detritus, I felt that the cycle seemed to drift away from Grote Street at this point, focusing on more general topics like theatrical couples and love affairs and Australian explorers. Not that these topics were completely off topic, but the thread that had held the show together to that point seemed to somewhat fray.
Meow Meow is a powerhouse singer and actress and she always does justice to her material. I’m just not sure that the material on this occasion did complete justice to her.