Meow Meow's - Pandemonium

Meow Meows Pandemonium adelaide cabaret festival2022Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 18 Jun 2022


Cabaret is an interesting type of entertainment to describe. In its modern form, it originated in Paris (arguably) in the late 1800s in the Montmartre area. It largely comprised stand-up comedians, actors, vaudevillians, and musicians all poking fun and thumbing their collective noses at the establishment. There was often a subversive element in what they did, sang and said, and this was particularly evident in German cabaret during the Weimar period of the 1920s. Cabaret was often held in intimate venues with the audience seated at tables in close proximity to the performers, but this is less common in today’s mass entertainment market and in festivals that ostensibly celebrate the cabaret genre.


At its best, cabaret is funny, subversive (with as many sacred cows being irreverently and mercilessly slaughtered as possible), energetic, audacious, and, above all, abundant with quality music and well-sung chansons! Meow Meow’s appropriately named cabaret show Pandemonium has all those features, in spades!


Meow Meow, aka Melissa Madden Gray, is originally from Canberra, but having performed in diverse major international venues to rave reviews, the world is truly her stage. She has exquisite comic timing and physicality, and a superb singing voice that is fuelled by top-notch technique, excellent diction and enviable pronunciation across a number of languages. She has a sensual stage presence that demands (and gets) your full attention. She is magnetic.


Meow Meow begins the show with a false-start: she first appears on one of the theatre’s balconies, and ‘realising’ she is in the wrong place attempts to climb down to the stage with her bag of costumes and various stage accoutrements. Eventually she makes her way to the stage and en route enlists the help of several members of the audience to help her change into a costume. She explains that she is “running on reduced circumstances” – blame COVID lockdowns – and she needs to get help where she can! This routine alone is almost worth the price of the ticket, especially when one of them takes out his pen knife to help sever a pesky strap! Meow Meow’s rib-tickling riposte is quick and …. cutting!


Having taken to the stage, it is clear that Meow Meow wants to invoke the intimacy of traditional cabaret and involve her audience as much as possible. Audience participation can often go down like the proverbial lead brick, but in Meow Meow’s seasoned hands, men in the audience veritably clamour to volunteer their services, although they are invariably ill-suited (or incapable!) for what they are asked to do, even in their “own time”! It’s all part of her formula, and it is oh so funny and will never get ‘old’!


Meow Meow performs a wide range of songs from various cabaret traditions, especially French and German, and is backed by the excellence and might of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra expertly conducted by Nicholas Buc. The stage of Her Majesty’s is jam-packed, and the lighting design and sound engineering exposes it and everyone in … full majesty!


Meow Meow’s performances of Ne me quitte pas by Jacque Brel, and Surabaya-Johnny by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht were sublime. Her rendition of the 1931 Weimar Republic classic It's All a Swindle (Alles Schwindel) by Mischa Spoliansky and Marcellus gave us a poignant reminder of what we have all endured through the recent state and federal elections.


Meow Meow doesn’t just sing from the traditional canon of cabaret songs. Tonight’s song list also included her own compositions, such as the hauntingly poignant Mon homme marié (My Married Man) and Hotel Amour that she co-wrote with Thomas M Lauderdale. Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees also features, and Meow Meow channels the song’s central character: her presentation is achingly beautiful.


And then there’s her performance in several languages of the 1960 hit Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, but there’s nothing shy about her act. It ended in, well, pandemonium with the members of the orchestra all throwing their scores into the air, and the audience howled with laughter.


Her version of Be Careful by Patty Griffin underscores the song’s essential message about female vulnerability, and it speaks to the men in the audience as much as it does to the women. It is a seminal moment in the concert.


Throughout, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is at the top of its game, and they clearly enjoy the experience of performing with Meow Meow, as opposed to playing for her and accompanying her own trio. Indeed, she orchestrates a wonderfully amusing entrance of the orchestra to kick off the send half: entering one-by-one (yes, it did take some time!) they individually ‘bowed’ with great humour and flourish. They take centre stage, and relish the occasion, but the night belongs to Melissa Madden Gray and her alter ego Meow Meow.


Make sure you see a Meow Meow concert when the occasion next presents itself. It’s one of those things you simply must do before you die…with laughter!


Kym Clayton


When: Closed

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre

Bookings: Closed