Alt-cabaret explosion

A diverse array of nightclub performers hone the edge of cabaret this week.

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  • Joey Arias

  • Justin Bond

  • Shells Hoffman

  • Meow Meow

  • Poor Baby Bree

Joey Arias



From October 7 though 9, the 21st annual Cabaret Convention will assemble at Time Warner Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall for its annual celebration of the Great American Songbook. That's all well and good, but the very best cabaret these days is often farther downtown—and a lot less conventional. This week offers a rare chance to explore an astonishing range of acts that are helping to return the genre to its tenacious roots in subversion, sex and unique personality.

From October 7 though 9, the 21st annual Cabaret Convention will assemble at Time Warner Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall for its annual celebration of the Great American Songbook. That's all well and good, but the very best cabaret these days is often farther downtown—and a lot less conventional. This week offers a rare chance to explore an astonishing range of acts that are helping to return the genre to its tenacious roots in subversion, sex and unique personality.

Joey Arias


Abrons Arts Center; Fri 1, Sat 2, Oct 8, 9
Joey Arias is a demigod of the demimonde, where he has entertained and scandalized the club world for decades. Since the late 1970s, he has been a central fixture of such hot spots as Danceteria, Jackie 60, Bar d'O and the Box (as well as the first majordomo of Cirque du Soleil's erotic spectacle Zumanity in Las Vegas). But there is more to Arias than his severe fetish-drag getups, extravagant charisma and gleefully filthy patter; he is also a vocalist of formidable skill, with an eerily incongruous penchant for the broken-horn stylings of Billie Holiday. Now, for the first time in nearly a decade, the notorious singer is performing a straight-up concert. But if the format is conservative, the star is sure to stay radical. Wherever Arias goes, he makes a scene.

Justin Bond


Joe's Pub; Sun 3, Oct 10, 31
"If I could love, I would love you all," said Justin Bond at a recent performance of the new Joe's Pub show, Fall In—a promise that cuts to the core of Bond's evolving persona. Having shed the skin that she/he wore as the front half of the punk-lounge duo Kiki & Herb, Bond retains a mama-snake mixture of nurture and menace: part transsexual den mother, part cultural assassin, part offhand Cassandra. Subversive and digressive, Bond's shows revel in casually shameless shamanism; they're Sunday-night services for an ever-growing cult. Delivering eclectic musical selections in a bone-deep sepulchral rumble—from a cover of the Carpenters to an original setting of Essex Hemphill's explicit queer poetry—Bond is a Lou Reed for the new millennium, welcoming you to come on in and enjoy the impending apocalypse.

Shells Hoffman


Joe's Pub; Thu 30, Oct 27
Shells Hoffman is a mitigated disaster. There is no good reason why anyone should care about this self-absorbed, mean, vain, drunk-dialing mess of a thing—stock trader by day, would-be chanteuse by night—as she dissolves into a puddle of hard-earned humiliation in each new installment of her monthly show. Yet as embodied by the brave and very funny Roslyn Hart—and as written, with sharp detail and wit, by Hart and Nick Chase—the ludicrous Shells somehow commands sympathy as well as delirious laughter. After a hiatus of several months, Shells is back at Joe's Pub with a vengeance, most of it aimed at the object of her unrequited lust (a onetime hookup named Scott); and so extreme are her self-delusion and romantic desperation that even when she is feeling no pain, you can't help feeling it for her. She's every mistake you've ever made or been, and she's irresistible.

Meow Meow


Joe's Pub; Mon 4--Wed 6
Whether or not you have ever seen the self-fashioned international megastar known as Meow Meow, the proper pose to assume in her presence is one of automatic supplication. It's not just what this postmodern diva deserves; it's what she expects and demands, and she will bully you to your knees if you haven't fallen there already. Patience may not be one of her virtues, but Meow Meow has plenty of others—a spectacularly variegated repertoire in multiple languages, a supple and classically trained voice, a clown's physicality on a bombshell's physique—which she metes out with brio, pique and weary monomania. At times, she offers full-on cabaret-icon dazzle, all but whipping you with her long lashes; at other times, she can't even be bothered to finish her songs. And in her latest Meow mix at Joe's Pub, she is sure to leave audiences begging for more.

Poor Baby Bree


La MaMa E.T.C.; Fri 1--Sun 3, Oct 8--10
To watch Poor Baby Bree in her riveting solo show I Am Going to Run Away is to experience an exquisite sense of showbiz dj vu: She is at once totally original and painstakingly atavistic. Incarnated with otherworldly intensity by Bree Benton, this ageless waif shares long-forgotten, deeply sentimental songs and stories from the vaudeville era with heartbreaking and hilarious directness. Her humble act is starting to boast a swank following—Paul Shaffer has called the show "the most magnificent cabaret act I have ever seen," and Laurie Anderson has called it "astounding"—for good reason. Poor Baby Bree's excellence is plain: She finds surprising riches in rags.

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