Last night I caught Kiki and Herb: Alive from Broadway presented under the auspices of Boston University's Huntington Theater at the Calderwood Pavilion. Kiki and Herb lost the Tony for special theatrical event to Jay Johnson: the Two and Only, which I also saw. (Read my review here.)
So, unlike many of the Tony Voters, I'm actually in a position to determine who really should have won. ("What's that you say? The august members of the Tony community vote even when they haven't seen all the shows?! Slander! Libel!")
The bottom line: Kiki and Herb was robbed.
Kiki is more than just a drag queen. She amounts to nothing less than a bravura acting achievement on the part of Justin Bond. Bond does more than merely portray the boozy cabaret star Kiki; he embodies her. Bond's ministrations are fierce, frenetic, and above all funny. But the show isn't just a wildly comic spoof of chanteuses of a certain age. It's also a timely political tract on everything from the Iraq war to the Catholic church to gay marriage, apropos of yesterday's landmark vote in the Massachusetts legislature.
As both Kiki and Herb consume vast quantities of alcohol, the show also gets increasingly moving and downright existential. Despite the fact that neither of them is really consuming anything alcoholic, the act becomes gradually, almost imperceptibly looser as the show progresses. Bond evinces one of the most credible drunks I've ever seen, and the results are both hysterical and heartbreaking.
Kenny Mellman as Herb matched Kiki's intensity with a smarmy, obsequious rendition of the classic cabaret pianist, but I could have done with a
little less screaming into the microphone. We get it: the guy's deaf.
Does the audience need to be as well?
Speaking of which, one major note to the production staff: the sound overall was wa-a-a-a-ay too loud. I'm not sure if this is part of the intent of the creators, but the decibel level was over the top, jarring, and at times painful. The Wimberly Theater isn't that big: we don't need the sound system to go to eleven.
But I encourage any fans of cabaret or musical theater to make their way to the Calderwood Pavilion before June 30th.
Earplugs in hand, just in case.