- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

You know you're in for a decidedly off-kilter evening when the preshow music consists of a children's chorus performing sugary renditions of the Beach Boys' classics, "In My Room," "Help Me Rhonda" and "I Get Around."
Then there's the set, which looks like a pastiche of every faux-luxurious lounge in Long Island Tony Soprano and his goombahs would feel right at home in set designer Daniel Ettinger's ode to ancient Rome, with its fake marble fountain, goddesses and cheesy plastic grapes decor.
This is all a schmaltzy backdrop to the main event, the "song stylings" of Kiki (Justin Bond) and her weepy piano player Herb (Kenny Mellman), who haul us through the best of the '70s through today in "Kiki and Herb in Pardon Our Appearance."
Kiki and Herb are probably not what Stephen Sondheim had in mind when he wrote "I'm Still Here." These two veteran entertainers and I use that term loosely were not born in a trunk but on a bar stool. They have barreled their way through the decades, growing boozier but certainly not more mellow by the year especially in terms of Kiki, whose voice is shot to blazes but her anger burns as brightly as the sequins on her Pucci pantsuit.
That is what makes this show so wildly, so inappropriately, hysterical. That they, like Liza Minnelli, have survived not on talent but on raw and raging ambition. Kiki has a voice that sounds like Harvey Fierstein with a frog in his throat, but that doesn't stop her from belting out Prince's "When Doves Cry" and other pop tunes with a bulldozer delivery that is both frightening and hilarious. And when she scats, Ella Fitzgerald must be tsking in her tasket.
Think of Steve and Eydie with an anger management problem, the Captain and Tennille as six-time Betty Ford dropouts, Antonin Artaud playing with Bobby Short at the Cafe Carlyle, and you have the gist of "Kiki and Herb." The amusing thing is that this lounge act does not do standards. There is not a Cole Porter or Irving Berlin ditty in the bunch. Instead, the schmoozy style of bar singing has been adapted to rap and hip-hop songs by the Wu Tang Clan and Mary J. Blige, classic rock by David Bowie (Kiki's mock-solemn interpretation of "Space Oddity" is like "MacArthur Park" on Ritalin), Pink Floyd and Pat Benatar.
In between numbers, Kiki runs through their noncareer highlights their claim to fame is that their albums were used as harassing devices against both Manuel Noriega in Panama and the holdouts at Waco and their life story. Both of them found each other at an orphanage in Erie, Pa., and the two outcasts decided then and there that showbiz was their ticket out.
They may be losers, but they are not quitters. There is a touch of tragicomic pride as Kiki and Herb run down their near-successes and myriad failures such as Kiki's marriages ("Avoid it if you can," she advises a young woman in the audience) and her children, a son who won't let her visit for fear she may break a Disney collectible, and a teenage daughter living in foster care. There was another child, Coco, whose demise is both sad and outlandish.
Under Doug Wright's direction (he is the playwright who wrote "Quills," the searing Marquis de Sade play), "Kiki and Herb" becomes more than a wacky drag cabaret act. It is not just a campy spoof. As Kiki, Mr. Bond constructs a marvelous paradox a woman angry at world events and society who just wants to sing and dance. To watch Kiki struggling with her need to please and her righteous indignation is a marvel. Mr. Mellman is equally touching as her piano man, a guy barely clinging to sanity but who has found a tiny place in the world as Kiki's lifelong sidekick.
If you like your humor sharp and disturbing, "Kiki and Herb" is one act you definitely want to catch.

***1/2
WHAT: "Kiki and Herb in Pardon Our Appearance"
WHEN: Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday 10:30 p.m., Sunday 7 p.m., through Nov. 17
WHERE: Woolly Mammoth Theatre at the Source, 1835 14th St. NW, Washington
TICKETS: $25-$30
PHONE: 202/393-3939
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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