Power Pop

"Kiki and Herb"


The buzz from New York on the cabaret act Kiki & Herb over the last couple of years has been so scintillating, so delicious, that I just didn’t think it could possibly be true. Can two mere mortals — Justin Bond as Kiki and Kenny Mellman as Herb — possibly use popular music in the lounge vernacular as subversively and fabulously as rumor was indicating?

Oh yes, they can. And then some.

Thanks to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, presenting Kiki & Herb in Pardon Our Appearance, Washingtonians can see for themselves why Kiki & Herb are alternative cultural creations to be revered and treasured. Bond’s Kiki, an aging, deranged, alcoholic pop singer, is the embodiment — to some degree — of virtually everyone’s dreams and nightmares. She is the side of us that longs for the spotlight and will do whatever it takes to keep getting her time in it. And she is fearless when it comes to voicing her opinions, however outrageous and incendiary they may be, in her hilarious dialogue with the audience between musical numbers.

But Kiki has also failed, on a staggering scale, with love, with family, and she barely functions on society’s fringe, without approval from anyone offstage other than the strangers in her adoring audience. Then there’s Mellman’s Herb, Kiki’s accompanist and lifelong sidekick who is both redeemed and oppressed by this train wreck of a woman. Herb’s emotions can only be channeled through his piano and Kiki’s performance, and she has the balls to stand up for him in ways his meek demeanor won’t allow.

It’s not much of a life, but it’s the one they have, and they keep plugging away, no matter what. That’s the beauty of Kiki & Herb’s message, complemented with sublimely bizarre takes on such catchy tunes as “When Doves Cry,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Come Sail Away.” Highly original. Hugely entertaining.

Kiki & Herb in Pardon Our Appearance runs through November 17 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th Street NW. Tickets are $10 to $30. Call 202-393-3939. Visit www.woollymammoth.net.

Also see: Sean Bugg’s interview with Kiki & Herb

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