A few years back, I had the pleasure of attending Kiki & Herb: Alive From Broadway during its run in Boston. I came away with the conclusion that the show was robbed (robbed!) of a 2007 Tony Award by the vastly inferior Jay Johnson: the Two and Only. (I actually saw both shows, unlike most of the Tony voters.)
I was particularly impressed by Justin Bond as the eponymous Kiki. Bond is more than just a drag queen: he's a consummate performer who embodies an uncannily credible character who is every bit as fierce as she is vulnerable. So when I came across the DVD Kiki & Herb: Live at the Knitting Factory, I knew I had to pick up a copy.
For the uninitiated, Kiki & Herb comprise Bond and pianist Kenny Melman, a post-Modern cabaret duo who have been performing together since the early '90s. Most of the songs that the pair perform have failed to register permanently in my consciousness, despite multiple viewings, although Kiki does do a kick-ass rendition of the Bonnie Tyler power ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
Perhaps my memory lapse stems from Kiki & Herb's preferred volume level, which I can best describe as "piercing." This was quite irksome when I saw them live, but at least with the DVD I can turn down the volume. Melman in particular seems to favor a key-pounding, throat-scraping, microphone-chewing delivery that I'm sure is deliberate, but that doesn't mean it's entertaining. Also, for some reason, both performers appear on the DVD with rather obvious, unconvincing aging makeup, which basically consists of a series of unblended black lines scrawled across their faces. Again, intentional to be sure, but somewhat inscrutable.
But all of that sort of misses the point of Kiki & Herb, which for me is really all about Bond and his seemingly rambling, interstitial monologues, which at any given time might rail against the Bush administration, issue forth a demand for marriage equality, or regale the faithful with sacrilegious claims of Kiki knowing Jesus in the Biblical sense. The overall effect is alternately mystical and nihilistic, reverential and profane. Bond's patter alone makes the DVD worth the price, but there are also some fascinating special features that serve as a sort of video history of the evolution of the Kiki character.
The DVD isn't available on Amazon until April 7th, 2009, but it's currently for sale at PlaybillStore.com. Kiki and Herb certainly aren't to everyone's taste, but for those who are willing to venture beyond your typical, safe cabaret show, there's a wealth of pleasure to be had herein. Just keep the volume control handy.