Kat Robichaud's Misfit Cabaret presents Cinephilia - at The Great Star Theater, by Patric Carver
Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret presents Cinephilia (photo: Patric Carver)

I’m not sure if it was Bill Murray’s Hunter S. Thompson from Where the Buffalo Roam or Johnny Depp’s Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas who stumbled out on to the stage at the Great Star Theatre last Saturday night, but it really didn’t matter. The important thing was that it was clear from the beginning that we, the audience, were getting weird tonight.

Dressed in the Thompson/Duke staples of a visor and Hawaiian shirt, pianist Brendan Getzell stumbled to his keyboard, mad-eyed and cigarette dangling from his mouth. The theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey melted into a spot-on rendition of “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.” I tell you, Gonzo tickling the ivories and piping out sweet melodies like Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) is the most surreal thing. I half expected the designs in the theatre carpet to start swirling and swimming on their own accord and Harold to stroll across the stage plucking his banjo. Yes, Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret’s latest show, Cinephilia, was off to a charming start.

This peaceful beginning was soon interrupted by a comical storming of “droogs” that was more clown-college than A Clockwork Orange. It fit well the rest of the show, in which characters from edgy cult classics were repackaged as more accessible parodies with few more faithful exceptions. It was a smart move, as otherwise the show would have seemed too heavy and more like a film class. This show was all about enjoyment and engagement; the fourth wall was broken and rebuilt so many times that I feared San Francisco’s imaginary brick supply would suffer and other performances would be out of luck.

Robichaud is a brilliant emcee, mixing humor with heroic high notes in her opening medley. She also trusts her audience to get the joke, which makes for smoother, more inventive references. At one point, she shoved a ball gag into Gentzel’s mouth, promising only to remove after he played along with her homage to Young Frankenstein’s muffled chorus for “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” It is a bit that could have been hokey and contrived — with coattails and a tap-dancing giant — but instead came off brilliantly. Later, after striking a compelling visual mimicking the poster for animated film Heavy Metal while belting out the film’s titular song, Roubichaud bantered with Getzell about imagining him as a young boy sneaking down to watch the inappropriate-for-children film after his parents had gone to bed. Judging from the laughter in the room, it was an experience that was shared by many attendees. There was even an unexplained demonic bubble-blowing bunny during “Head Over Heels,” to which Donnie Darko fans responded gleefully. I can’t be certain, but I think she included the song “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” to catch the ear of both fans of the film Cat People and Inglorious Basterds.

Some acts were simply fun. Daring Grace Bones did a stunning burlesque act with a Pulp Fiction theme – including a Big Kahuna Burger and Marvin’s brains. (It finally answered the question of what was in the mysterious suitcase as well.) Strange band Oinga Boinga paid tribute to the one of the strangest movies around, Forbidden Zone, with a short set that was poppy and musically sound. For those of you not in the know, Forbidden Zone is a Danny Elfman (yes, that Danny Elfman) picture that recounts the adventures of Frenchy, a young woman who discovers the Sixth Dimension through a portal in her basement. It might sound like kids’ stuff, but I assure you, it ain’t.  I enjoyed Oinga Boinga’s possibly more than I’ll ever enjoy the movie that inspired it, and I give them extreme kudos for their detailed costuming.

Some of the performers took greater liberties. Aerialist Nina Sawant became a petite John McClane, defying gravity while reenacting the infamous fire-hose-as-grappling hook scene from Die Hard. Her cheeky choice of “It’s Raining Men” as the musical accompaniment worked well and mixed machismo with merriment. Another performer, Mary Vice, produced a similarly thin but brilliant connective tissue between song and cinema, paying homage to Eraserhead‘s lady in the radiator with poppy ’80s party hit “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” I’ve seen Vice perform this act before in a different show, and, man – I don’t think drag gets better or weirder than that.

Another wonderfully juxtaposed act was Katy Stephan, who put an operatic spin on Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s work with pieces from Team America: World Police and South Park. Her voice was very polished, but her act didn’t appear to be and I think it was the right choice. Wearing pink camouflage pants and carrying a ray gun, she looked more like an extra from Mars Attacks! than a Stone/Parker creation, and it ultimately worked in her favor. Whereas Oinga Boinga was referencing a mostly unknown flick, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of farting Canadians Terence and Philip or potty-mouthed Eric Cartman. If her costuming or persona had been too subject-related it would have been too much. Stephan, who knows how to engage a crowd, played it just right.

Somber was sometimes mixed with the silly, including a performance by Jillian Gnarling as Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was introduced as “always late,” a nod to her show-business fame forever being coupled with her infamous death. Gnarling chose to portray Monroe as the slightly sad and sauced Monroe, rather than the party girl she was famous for being. It was a smart choice — one of the two moments when the cinema theme went behind the scenes to the tragic lives of picture-makers. The other was a piece where Robichaud portrayed the ill-fated, fame-crazed Norma Desmond, a caricature of forgotten, faded starlet. Dancers Juliano Wade and Jain Dowe cast beautiful shapes and alluring movements that perfectly matched the sober tone. It was lovely.

Robichaud herself participated in many lovely numbers. She morphed into Jessica Rabbit, Veronica Sawyer, and even Edward Scissorhands, each time projecting the character faithfully while still being able to insert some of that Robichaud magic into the dialogue. At the close of the show, Robichaud may have still being wearing her Scissorhands dress, but for a moment she was no longer masked. Teary-eyed, she thanked the audience and her fellow cast members. She also thanked the city of San Francisco for accepting her, helping her grow her vision as an artist, saying, “I can’t tell you what isn’t like, being from a state where I didn’t feel like I fit in. When I came here, everyone just opened their doors and welcomed me.”

We’re happy to have you, Kat, the pleasure is all ours.

Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret will return to the Great Star Theatre October 20 with Horror Show, a new production.