by Marcina Zaccaria. . .

Standing under an enormous sleigh, Justin Vivian Bond enchanted a packed house at Harvey Theater at Brooklyn Academy of Music on November 30.  

A clever show, created by Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman, it’s a chat-fest of polished cabaret tunes, verging on a glam rock concert, filling the Opera House with a blend of Christmas tunes and pop music standards.  

Kiki is quite something.  This character in soft blonde curls has seen it all, including extraordinary stories of her early life in the 1950s.  Narrating through the misery, she drops ice cubes into her glass on a table filled with Christmas decorations.  She explains that she met Herb at an asylum when they were children.  The stories and choice of songs seems so spontaneous.  There’s no hiding.  Difficult times are difficult times, and Kiki is here to tell you that she has lived through them all.  It’s all there, with a blatant honesty that is an antidote to any false sense of feel-good holiday fare.  

Having succeeded previously at Joe’s Pub, Carnegie Hall, and Broadway, Kiki and Herb seem louder and better at BAM.  Maybe it’s Kiki talking about her children or lifting a stuffed animal from the piano before claiming the stage in high heeled shoes, but the moments of innocence stand out in the larger context of an evening that showcases the powerful sound of this diva.  The songs get louder as the performance progresses, and the overall message seems to be to have friends, appreciate the Christmas Season with some classic rock music, and stand up for you and your own before someone accuses you of being only the angry elf.  As the memories spin in our perception and the laughs sprinkle the air waves, the truth is told that Kiki’s piano man and, perhaps, her potent sound system really got her through the small-minded 50s and beyond.

Justin Vivian Bond has conjured up a type of real-time where the audience can’t help but listen to the singing blasting to the back row and applaud.  Kiki reminds us that this might be the last Christmas for some of us, one of the darker comments in the lighter evening when Kiki and Herb don’t miss a beat.  Though the performance was slated to last an hour and a half, it lasted well beyond that.  When Kiki ends the performance in a red, feather boa, singing a medley that includes “Crucify Myself” and “Stairway to Heaven”, the packed audience cheers  and jumps to their feet. 

Kiki and Herb Sleigh at BAM will be playing at the Harvey Theater at Brooklyn Academy of Music until December 4.  

Photos: Richard Termine