Meow Meow goes wild 

click to enlarge Everything that can go wrong does in “An Audience with Meow Meow” onstage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. - COURTESY KEVINBERNE.COM
  • Everything that can go wrong does in “An Audience with Meow Meow” onstage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
She makes her first entrance high above the stage, wearing a glittering costume, its enormous skirt trailing down to the floor. Poised above marquee lights bearing her name, puffing on a cigarette, Meow Meow belts her opening number, “Tonight I’m Yours.”

In “An Audience with Meow Meow,” glamour is a given. So are physical high jinks, existential angst, torch songs and crowd-surfing.

The chanteuse, comedienne and all-around international sensation – “a showgirl of gigantic proportions” – gives her all in the new show, which opened Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s fall season last Friday. Directed by Kneehigh Theatre’s Emma Rice, it’s 90 minutes of inspired theatrical chaos.

Meow Meow begins the evening on a bright, hopeful note. But “An Audience” is all about what can go wrong onstage. Calamity befalls her at every turn: wardrobe malfunctions, missed cues, and a general disintegration of the fourth wall add to the fun as this merry mistress of misrule walks the line between art and artifice, innocence and despair.

Part sensual diva, part tragedian, part fearless physical clown, Meow Meow deftly blends bits of Lotte Lenya, Charlie Chaplin, Samuel Beckett and Dame Edna. She’s a master of timing, one who excels at holding a pose just a little too long. “Somebody usually throws flowers at this point,” she says, glaring at the audience.

Careening around the stage, she veers off script, sitting down to confide her deepest fears until a pair of surly stagehands announce they’re shutting down the show. Stripping away sets and costumes, they leave her bereft. Unstoppable, she soldiers on.

Under the direction of Rice, whose previous shows for Berkeley Rep include “The Wild Bride” and “Tristan & Yseult,” it’s all expertly timed. Tiger Martina’s choreography is witty, Neil Murray’s sets and costumes are aptly extravagant, and Lance Horne’s musical arrangements – played onstage by Horne, Russ Gold, Jessica Ivry and Pat Moran – sound sublime. Michael Balderrama and Bob Gaynor get laughs of their own as dancers and stagehands.

The songs cover a wide ground, and Meow Meow delivers them brilliantly. Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and Harry Warren’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” are show-stoppers. “Itsy Bitsy,” delivered in English, French and “Eastern European,” is hilarious. Original songs by Iain Grandage, Thomas Lauderdale and Meow Meow are delightful surprises.

Just as surprising is how poignant Meow Meow can be. The emotional atmosphere of “An Audience” turns on a dime. When she sings “Be Careful” by Patty Griffin, this diva can break your heart.


An Audience with Meow Meow

Presented by: Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Where: Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 19

Tickets: $29 to $89

Contact: (510) 647-2949,

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Georgia Rowe

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