When celebrities melt down 

"If I could love, I would love you all," exclaims Kiki, one half of musical duo Kiki and Herb and star of the surreal cabaret revue "Kiki and Herb: Alive from Broadway."

A penchant for booze, angry outbursts and blinding narcissism suggest otherwise. The characters of Kiki and Herb — played to glazed perfection by actors Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman — create a wonderfully garish send-up of self-deluding, train-wreck celebrities who love only themselves. Presented in a freewheeling lounge-act format, the show is a cockeyed "Sonny and Cher Show" for 21st-century hipsters.

Bond and Mellman, who launched their fictional alter egos in San Francisco nearly 20 years ago, returned to The City last week with the latest version of the show. Presented by American Conservatory Theater, the one-hour, 45-minute opening night performance was a goofy meltdown of pop songs (from sources as varied as Gnarls Barkley, Dan Fogelberg and The Cure), showbiz shtick, political barbs and social commentary.

And, of course, more than you ever wanted to know about Kiki and Herb. Having taken their knocks in previous incarnations — including an unceremonious exit from the Love Boat a few years back — the duo is now on the comeback trail: "This is our ‘Year of Magical Drinking’ tour," explains Kiki in a whiskey-soaked voice.

Guzzling amber-colored liquid from large tumblers and dressed (by Marc Happel) in suitably lurid loungewear — a tie-dyed, bell-bottomed pantsuit for Kiki, gold lame jacket for Herb — Kiki perches in a leafless tree (Scott Pask’s set designs say "Gotterdammerung" more than the Copa) and lets it all hang out. At the keys, the perpetually smiling, zoned-out Herb supplies a steady stream of mind-numbing piano-bar sound.

Between songs, Kiki slurs and sputters her way into outrage, taking on popes, politicians, celebrities and social issues such as gay marriage ("I’m waiting for gay divorces.") But the show’s chief target is us — the American audience, with its insatiable appetite for suffering stars and emotional excess. Just when you think Kiki’s about to drown in pathos — a recap of their mutually institutionalized childhoods, a weirdly confessional bit on a reunion with her long-lost daughter, or a revelation about curing herself of cancer with an electric blanket and a bottle of vodka — she turns the tables on her fans.

Pondering the neo-folk revival and songwriters who want to express their deepest feelings, she takes another slug and sniffs "Personally, I don’t want to feel anything."

"Kiki and Herb" could use a little trimming; on opening night, the energy started to sag midway through the evening. But Bond and Mellman carry the show on the strength of their outsized performances. It’s hard not to love characters this addled — even if they’re incapable of loving you back.

Kiki and Herb: Alive from Broadway

Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $13-$66

Contact: (415) 749-2228 or www.act-sf.org

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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