Kiki and Herb: Alive on Broadway Created and executed by Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman. Scenic design by Scott Pask. Lighting design by Jeff Croiter. Costume design by Marc Happel. Sound design by Brett Jarvis.
The reports of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated. Kiki and Herb's disappearance following their landmark 2004 Carnegie Hall concert did not mean, as some feared, that one of New York's longest-standing (and longest-drinking) institutions had sashayed elegantly off this distressing mortal coil. It's now clear they were merely lying in wait, gathering their strength, and preparing for the greatest challenge of their careers: their Broadway debut.
In their quest to knock audiences dead, they've come to the Great White Way prepared. Perhaps, dare one say it, overprepared. Only their most ardent of fans, who can't feast often enough on Justin Bond's shattered, chattering chanteuse Kiki, or on Kenny Mellman's demonically driven piano player Herb, will be well equipped to not just survive the laudanum-infused spectacle at the Helen Hayes, but thrive on it. Just about everyone else can expect Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway to be an enigma inside a puzzle swathed in studded satin.
Established Kikites and Herbalists might well find they've heard much of this before; while the precise ingredients of this absinthe-kerosene cocktail of mashed-together medleys and pungent commentary have been blended specifically for Broadway, not all of Kiki's quips and anecdotes are newly minted. And newcomers (or at least those who can follow the train wrecks of thought weaving throughout this neo-apocalyptic concert) might find their tolerance sorely tested by an evening that, at nearly two and a half hours, likely bears as many stretch marks as Kiki's midsection.
But with song selections ranging, however unrecognizably, from vivisected show tunes (the title song from the Jones/Schmidt Celebration) to pop both old (Bob Merrill) and new (Radiohead), to say nothing of spiked-punch lines about everyone from President Bush to the Pope, theatricality is never lacking. The duo's instincts, honed from over 10 years of club and theatre engagements (including one three years ago at the Cherry Lane), are as sharp as Kiki's tongue and Herb's fingers. Their onstage personas as the galloping ghoul and the percussive vampire of no-talent talents are so richly developed as a pair, one can scarcely imagine them apart.
This allows to them to milk each moment for all it's worth. A sloshed Kiki mounting or dismounting an onstage tree that looks as decrepit as she does (Scott Pask designed the absurdly autumnal set) ranks as priceless physical comedy on its own; later, when she diverts from the planned program with a special number for "the children," the nonsense she's singing can't quite compare to Herb's forehead-slapping exasperation at her over-indulgence.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself increasingly able to relate as they plod on. While the first act is as funny as it is freakish, establishing the foundation for some astonishing revelations about the pair's equally astonishing longevity (let's just say that the Depression-era orphanage in which they've previously claimed they met wasn't exactly the beginning), what follows the intermission feels more desperate, more mechanical. It's also more political, though their methods of addressing topics like gay marriage, Hurricane Katrina, and the ongoing war tend to try one's patience rather than reward it. (The barbs Kiki flings when tackling religion, however, are choice.)
Aside from a spirited encore drawn from modern Broadway show tunes (especially those of legendary theatrical dramatist Jim Steinman), it's Bond and Mellman who ultimately rescue the evening from Kiki and Herb. Thrilling with their showmanship, their musicality, and their rapport, they do conquer, even during the many minutes that lack the spark that got them noticed - and to Broadway - in the first place. Perhaps their act, reportedly toned down for Broadway, has been reined in too much?
Even when their drawn-out antics bore or frustrate most, it's hard not to admire - perhaps even love? - the giddily insane perpetrators. As Kiki points out, it's much more difficult to love than it is to die, which means that's some sort of an accomplishment. Not that they have yet mastered either, and if they don't learn by September 10, when Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway is scheduled to close, then perhaps in the future. Even if these two never return to Broadway, one can't help but feel they'll never go away again.