Defeated, victorious, and resilient. That’s Kiki DuRane, a throwback to another time, and oh so in tune with the mood of the present. Iconic cabaret duo Kiki & Herb performed tonight at Seattle’s Moore Theatre. They complete their holiday tour in two California cities this weekend.
Long past her prime, lounge singer Kiki DuRane is that old lady who hogs the mic at the sticky floored, dim amber lit, duct-taped stool cushion karaoke bar that’s had the same absentee owner since 1974. Her voice sounds, on occasion, like roadkill that’s been hit a few times with the snow tires of booze, Luckys, impatient customers, and several cheatin’ husbands, only one of which she cared about; but a few verses in has everyone enamored, cheering, and heartbroken, at the same time and in equal measures.
I should mention, Kiku DuRane is a character. No one could be quite that stereotypical, outside of a few now-reclusive legends, perhaps. But iconic cabaret singer Justin Vivian Bond — who, unlike Kiki, was not born in 1930 — puts on one hell of a convincing show.
If you’ve ever seen Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (here’s a refresher), the Kiki & Herb dynamic is a lot like that of Lady and her accompanist, Jimmy Powers. Kiki is getting sauced. She loses track of time and place as she rattles off some story and moves onto the next, in between — or right in the middle of — her numbers. When her mind drifts somewhere else, her cabaret partner Herb (Kenny Mellman) occasionally helps rein her in.
But it’s less severe — Herb is happily hitting the bottle too, and having a good time with his solid piano playing and frequently tone-deaf singing — and decidedly less sad. We know the ending for Lady Day, and that comes through in Emerson’s. For Kiki, the story is still writing itself, even if she’s a hard-living 92 years old. That helps make the whole thing too joyful to be sad.
And it’s not for lack of trying. In this Christmas show, called Do You Hear What We Hear? (like the duo’s album title of some 20 years ago, when they last performed together regularly), Kiki tells the story of Jesus’ birth through a variety of musical numbers — bouncing around from Christmas classics to Kate Bush and Led Zepplin, all somehow cohesive with Bond-as-DuRane’s unique flair — before arriving at a spectacular rendition of Tori Amos’ “Crucify.” Ouch.
Like the risen Christ, Kiki is kind of defeated and kind of victorious, and nothing if not resilient. She wonders aloud to Herb, in apparent mostly seriousness, if they’ll be the only ones to outlive global warming. That’s her deepest fear. Because Kiki is nothing without her audience. And her audience is thoroughly grateful for her.
Read more about the formation and recent reunion of Kiki & Herb in an interview in the New York Times, here.
Kiki & Herb: Do You Hear What We Hear? performed 12/8 at the Moore Theatre in Downtown Seattle, presented by Seattle Theatre Group. They are completing a Northeast and West Coast tour in San Francisco and Los Angeles this weekend. See Seattle show info here and STG upcoming shows here.
Looking for more? Check out the Christmas show from Dina Martina, of whom Justin Vivian Bond is a big fan (and Kiki happily poked fun at from the stage), which opened tonight at ACT Theatre. See show info here.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.