Weirdly mixed feelings about Kiki and Herb's new Broadway show. Or should I say "new"? Fans of the dynamic duo (played by Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman) will be familiar with a fairly large portion of Kiki and Herb: Alive on Broadway, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Part of K&H's appeal derives from familiarity with their backstory. Back in the downtown days, it would be randomly revealed over the course of various performances: One night you'd get a story about the tragic death of Kiki's daughter, Coco; another you'd learn about about why Kiki's other daughter, Miss D, had to be placed with social services; on yet another, there may be some long-winded reminiscence about cavorting with celebrities in Swinging London, or about one of the duo's half-forgotten, misguided albums. The K&H shows were about the balance between CC and ginger–fueled trips down memory lane (emphasis on trips) and the disheveled, hysterical performance of pop and rock nuggets, some of them stretched to absurd lengths and interspersed with flotsam and jetsam popping to the surface of Kiki's brain with Tourette's-like randomness. At one point I was so obsessed with Kiki and Herb that I went to see them almost every week.
For their Broadway debut, K&H blend new selections (Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," Scissor Sisters' "Take Your Mama") with some of their tried-and-true hits ("Total Eclipse of the Heart," introduced as part of the Broadway songbook, which is technically true since it was in Jim Steinman's dreadful Dance of the Vampires; Daniel Johnston's "Walking the Cow," as usual paired with the anecdote about Kiki's cow Daisy eating Jesus' afterbirth). The banter similarly incorporates familiar anecdotes (Kiki meeting Herb for the first time) and new material, including a heavy-handed pro-gay-marriage paean in the second act that doesn't feel very Kiki at all.
And my question here is: Why not a brand-new show? If you're going to be on Broadway, why not expand the K&H experience? After all, the kind of washed-up cabaret duo created by Bond and Mellman would have jumped on the opportunity to go overboard, to hire some dancing boys and girls and jump headfirst into Great White Way vulgarity. I guess the rationale is to expose newcomers to the duo's world (it worked for Ben Brantley), but the end result feels frustratingly on the fence. The show is too outré for a run-of-the-mill Broadway audience, but not enough for its natural constituency. And because of the very nature of Kiki and Herb's act—which to me was among the most innovative of the past decade—I'm not sure that problem can be solved.