PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway : Up the Down Subway

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway : Up the Down Subway Body-piercing were at a merciful minimum—as were Establishment suits—Aug. 15 when first-nighters filed into the Helen Hayes Theatre for the opening of the 2005-2006 Broadway season, most of them looking like they’d overshot the runway a good two express subway stops. Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman, joined at the professional hip by an ampersand (the former in song and monologue, the latter at the piano), were there making their quantum leap from downtown darlings to Main Stem stars in Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway.
From top: Justin Bond and Kenny Melman; Deborah Harry and Friends; Scenic design Scott Pask and Scott Wittman; Basil Twist; Kevin Cahoon; Drag Performers, Bob and Murray Hill; Adam Horovitz and Kathleen Hanna; Jane Adams and Michael Cavadias.
From top: Justin Bond and Kenny Melman; Deborah Harry and Friends; Scenic design Scott Pask and Scott Wittman; Basil Twist; Kevin Cahoon; Drag Performers, Bob and Murray Hill; Adam Horovitz and Kathleen Hanna; Jane Adams and Michael Cavadias. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The title came as kind of a comfort after the name of their high-profiled, sold-out gig last year: Kiki & Herb Will Die for You at Carnegie Hall. Broadway is just their “little” way of proving there is life A.C. (after Carnegie). What follows Broadway is anybody’s guess.

“I haven’t got a clue,” admitted Bond (Kiki) when the question came up at the post-show bash at the 02 Lounge at The Time Hotel on West 49th. “I guess we’ll tour.”

The two and only constitute a crowd for the Helen Hayes, sandwiched in for four weeks between Sarah Jones’ one-person, 14-character show, bridge & tunnel (Jan. 12-Aug. 6) and the ventriloquist one-man show that follows them Sept. 19, Jay Johnson: The Two and Only).

Bond said he next surfaces this fall in cinema (but still in drag), playing a brothel madam in an independent feature written and directed by Hedwig’s John Cameron Mitchell.

But, for the moment, both performers were basking in having made it to the top of their own particular Everest. A couple of weeks ago, Kiki was uncommonly candid to the press at their meet ‘n’ greet: “To be perfectly honest, I don’t care if we flop. I don’t care if we’re a bomb on Broadway. We can spent the rest of our lives talking about when we flopped on Broadway. The main thing is that we can say that we did it. I’m not looking forward to doing it. I just want it to be done.” And done it was— well done, according to Ben Brantley in The New York Times—widening their eyes and cracking their mascara. “We previewed in Philadelphia last week, and I tightened everything up,” said Bond. “I was nervous, only because I can’t control how people perceive the show. But I felt—from Saturday, when most of the press was there, through tonight—if people didn’t like the show, they didn’t like the show. But at least Kenny and I did the show we set out to do.”

Mellman, who provides wall-to-wall accompaniment to Bond’s riffs and rants and ramblings in addition to the musical numbers, had the look of a man who had just done Everest in double-time. His eyes fluttered a touch when someone reminded him he’d be doing this eight performances a week—a rude jolt to the system for a downtown performance artist. “We’ve done it, but that was out of town,” he said. “Right now, we’re both very exhausted. There was a look that passed between us tonight in the middle of our bows, and you could tell we were saying to each other, ‘How are we going to do this?’”

It helped that so many downtown staples and friends rode the rails uptown to catch their opening night on Broadway. “Tonight was great,” declared Bond. “The previews were pretty nerve-racking, but tonight was like a party, having so many friends around.”

Blondie's Deborah Harry, and Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz topped the gritty glitz. Joan Rivers no-showed, but Molly Ringwald made a surprise appearance, as did Ramones manager Danny Field, the godfather of American punk. Also: Michael Cavadias, Miss Guy, puppeteer Basil Twist (who once played Charley the Tuna opposite Kiki), Kathleen Hanna, Ian Falconer , and biographer James Gavin (now busy with Lena Horne).

The Tony-winning star on hand was Jane Adams, who got hers when An Inspector Calls called in 1994 and who was last seen on Broadway between Frank Langella and Ray Liotta in Match. “Justin’s one of my best friends,” she said. “His shows are more like therapy.”

Neal Medlyn, who has been known to perform with Mellman on Bond’s night off or out (they do evenings of R Kelly songs), betrayed not a hint of jealousy seeing his sometimes partner hitting the big-time stride. “I’ve seen lots of stuff on Broadway, so to see them there—it’s one of the more exciting things in my life. He’s such a generous performer.”

Downtown deejay Sammy Jo is a rabid fan of their music. “All of the songs are covers,” he said, "but they do such a good job of making them their own and making them make sense, within the context of the show, that folks think they wrote the songs themselves.”

No, Boy George did not make the scene—he was probably catching some z’s from all the community service he has been sweeping up lately—but his lookalike wannabe from The Wedding Singer did: Kevin Cahoon. He left his eyeliner on from the show so he infiltrated the first-nighters with ease. “We went to the show last night. We’re just here for the party—for my friends Justin and Kenny, whom I’ve been seeing since they were doing this show in the backroom at The Cowgirl Hall of Fame. And then to see them sell out Carnegie Hall last year, and now this—it just doesn’t get better than this.”

Cahoon’s own show is proving to be something of an Energizer bunny among Broadway musicals. “Josh was just picking me up at the stage door, and said, ‘Not every show has a hundred kids at the stage door afterwards, screaming.' It’s like a little sub-rock concert.”

“Josh” is Josh Marquette, hair designer for The Drowsy Chaperone. Wearing an every-which-way-but-loose shag (and, again, fitting in), he obviously gave at the office. (His Pepe Le Pew pompadour for Danny Burstein’s Aldolpho is a comic masterpiece.)

Xanadu director Christopher Ashley and I Am My Own Wife playwright Doug Wright were an old two for the evening, pals since Buzzsaw Berkeley days. Ashley is putting the finishing touches on the All Shook Up tour, which will open Sept. 12 in Milwaukee with Joe Mandragona, Jenny Fellner and Susan Anton; then, ten days later, he takes up the velvet whip for Paul Rudnick’s Regrets Only, which starts previewing Oct. 19 at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage I with Christine Baranski and George Grizzard. After that the December workshop of Xanadu with Ben Vereen and Jane Krakowski .

Wright has been rewriting the first act of Grey Gardens to strengthen the critical hosannas when it opens at the Walter Kerr Nov. 2, starring Christine Ebersole in her Tony-qualifying performance of “Little Edie” Beale. She doubles as “Big Edie” in Act I, which is undergoing some major escavation. New songs? “I think the answer is a tentative yes,” Wright replied cagily. “There’s going to be some new work, definitely. We’re continuing to work on the first act because we see this as an opportunity to bring the piece all the way to completion. Playwrights Horizons was our New Haven.”

During this period of revisions, a helpful piece of research has fallen into the laps of the show’s creators: "The Beales of Grey Gardens," 90 minutes of outtakes trimmed from "Grey Gardens," the original 1976 documentary by Albert Maysles and his late brother, David. Currently it’s a Friday and Saturday midnight special at IFC Theatre, and Wright and his collaborators, composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie, checked it out. “It was so inspiring, so fascinating, to see because there were so many hunches we had about the ladies where we were working solely from the first film that were borne out in the new material—just in terms of what their respective paths had been, the idea that both women were territorial about their men, a lot of the behavioral dynamics you see planted in `Grey Gardens.'”

Scott Pask, a Tony nominee for The Pillowman and one of the most prolific set designers on the scene right now, concocted a comfy set for the two to do their thing. Mellman and his 88 keys reside happily underneath a gigantic sheltering marijuana leaf; Bond spends most of his time up a tree, equipped with clever little pockets for stashing bottles and resting glasses. In this send-up of a lounge-act gone blearily amok, the booze flows freely.

No grass (of any variety) seems to be growing on Pask. Tarzan designer-director Bob Crowley, recognizing a wunderkind-on-the-rise when he sees one, has tapped him to help him build The [three-part] Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center, but Pask’s first task will be The Vertical Hour, the David Hare play which director Sam Mendes plans to world-premiere Nov. 30 at the Music Box with Julianna Moore and Bill Nighy. Pask, who arrived at the party with his twin Bruce (editor of men’s fashion at The New York Times), was not the only Scott of note present. Scott Wittman, whose second Broadway score (with partner Marc Shaiman) officially arrives Aug. 17 with Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me. He also directed the piece. The critics came on Sunday, he said, and the color seemed to be returning to his face. His outlook, generally, was good.

“But it’s not over,” he laughed. “It’s never over.” On Sunday, he hops a plane for Montreal where his Tony-winning Hairspray is before the movie cameras with John Travolta dragging out Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winning role. “Christopher Walken just signed to play Travolta’s husband, and I’m happy about that”—not Jim Broadbent , as previously reported (here). “We’ve done three or four new songs for the movie.”

Mustached drag king Murray Hill surveyed the opening-night scene and gave it a high-time nod. “I’ve know these kids for ten years—we started in New York at the same so I’m honored to be here—and it’s exciting they’re here on Broadway. It gives everybody else hope, all the kids who’ve been sluggin’ downtown. It’s a big night. The Beastie Boys are here tonight, The Wauwau Sisters, a lot of these people who might not have been above 14th Street. Kiki’s really bringing everybody uptown. I’ve never seen a downtown set showered. I wish there were more opening nights so these kids would shower more.”

Kiki and Herb take their opening bows on Broadway.
Kiki and Herb take their opening bows on Broadway.