Purrfect feline siren on show
Performer Meow Meow

With her heavily lined and be-sparkled eyes, siren-red lipstick and trademark cigarette between fingers, Meow Meow is every inch the sultry cabaret singer.

Combined with her razor-sharp wit, there is something dangerous about her - and audiences from Berlin and New York to Perth love it.

Meow Meow is more than a stage name. Don't try asking questions about her background. "I don't want to discuss my sordid past," she says enigmatically. It's hard to know where the Meow Meow persona ends - somewhere under the make-up and sequins is the Canberra-born Melissa Madden Gray - but that mystique is definitely part of her charm.

While it may appear that Meow Meow is all about artifice, the person that I encounter seems very real. She bubbles with husky-voiced enthusiasm when I ask her what she has been up to since she was last in Australia in January. "It's all horribly blurry," she laughs.

"We were doing Little Match Girl in January at the Sydney Festival . . . then I came over to Perth and did some shows for the Fringe in the Spiegeltent. Then I spent quite a lot of time in the States. I'm doing a new album with Thomas Lauderdale from Pink Martini, so I've just been in Portland recording with them.

"And then Amanda Palmer's album launch which is sort of completely the opposite. Aside from my solo work, I've had the most interesting, joyous collaborative life. Right now, I'm working on a new piece for Tasmania's MONA with WA composer Iain Grandage and then I'm also starting to prepare for Brecht's Threepenny Opera, which I'm doing with the London Philharmonic."

Amanda Palmer to the London Philharmonic Orchestra? That's quite a range. But that's not all.

"We're doing Little Match Girl at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London for a month in December which is absolutely thrilling because it's a very special piece to me," she continues. "That's an original work, with songs by Iain Grandage and I, who is, of course, a Perth local, and also the divine Megan Washington. She's a fantastic friend of mine, and she wrote some beautiful pieces for Little Match Girl."

Little Match Girl will travel to London with three Helpmann Awards in the box - best cabaret performer for Meow Meow, best music direction for Grandage and best lighting design for Paul Jackson. "I was in New York at the time of the awards ceremony, doing a fundraiser for President Barack Obama. I would have loved to have been there because that piece was very special to me and it was lovely to have it recognised," says Meow Meow with feeling. "I hope to bring that to Perth eventually."

And what of the cabaret show that is coming to the Astor next month?

"The Astor building is so gorgeous - the show is really a little return of the one I did here in February, but adapted for that incredible space," she says. "I'm more physically agile than I was in February. So beware Perth audiences!

As Lance (Horne, Emmy Award winning musician and collaborator- friend of Meow Meow's) always says: 'You may not be moved but you will be touched at a Meow Meow show!'"

It all sounds like a joke, but Meow Meow is serious about being more agile. "I had a terrible injury in New York doing a ballet class," she explains. "So I had to do quite a few concerts with a leg brace and crutches . . . but of course, I got dancing boys to carry me in. Then I ended up wearing a neck brace just to finish it off . . . I wasn't going to go half-heartedly - I embraced the look. I sat on a stool with my leg sticking out, and we went on from there."

For Meow Meow, that adaptability is one of the big draws of cabaret.

"That's really the beauty of the cabaret format," she explains. "You're not stuck with a narrative that you have to fulfil every night. You really can adapt to what's happened in your personal world and the world at large."

And how would she describe her solo show to someone who hasn't yet had the pleasure? "Glorious . . . gloriously unsettling," she chuckles.

"I would say it's often quite ridiculous, and hopefully quite ecstatic. There's a lot of joy . . . and it's exciting because you're not sure what will happen."

The West Australian

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