Aussie ‘Cats’ Star Meow Meow Is Coming Home For Christmas

5 November 2019 | 9:43 am | Felicity Pickering

Meow Meow aka Melissa Madden Gray talks to Felicity Pickering about crisis, Christmas and featuring in the upcoming 'Cats' movie.

By all accounts, Meow Meow is having a stellar moment in her career. When we speak, the Australian cabaret tragi-comedienne, born Melissa Madden Gray, is currently touring Canada and the east coast of the US with world-renowned little orchestra Pink Martini, and is “basically in a different town every night”.

It’s gotten to the point where she has to ask Siri to figure out exactly where she is. She might just be, as she jokes, “the hardest working lady in showbiz”.

The specialist in Weimar repertoire and French chanson wrapped filming on Cats earlier this year. The blockbuster is already one of the most talked-about movies of 2019, generating enormous buzz for its all-star cast, including Taylor Swift, James Corden, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Jason Derulo and another Australian, Rebel Wilson. Madden Gray plays Griddlebone, Growltiger’s sidekick.

“It was pretty mad. Taylor Swift and Judy Dench and Idris Alba and Ian McKellen. It was a pretty mad, fabulous experience to be around those actors and talents.”

Madden Gray was thrilled to not only work with the Hollywood heavy hitters, but also by dance practitioners she’d always admired, such as ballet superstars Robert Fairchild and Francesca Hayward. “Even when we weren’t filming, I was just watching, and rolling around with very exquisite top, top, top dancers. Which is my idea of heaven really.”

Fresh from the bright lights of Hollywood, Madden Gray will return to Australia to grace the stages of Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre with Apocalypse Meow: Crisis Is Born this November – just in time for Christmas. The Yuletide cabaret show originally played at Southbank Centre in London in 2014 and then went on to the Shakespeare’s Globe in 2017.

But Apocalypse Meow: Crisis Is Born is a Christmas special of a different kind. This piece about the silly season has a serious message. “Christmas is one of the most hellish times of the year, not just because of the madness, because it’s famous for bringing up all sorts of questions about, ‘What are we doing in the world? And what does it all mean?’

“I’m trying to give it as much hilarity as possible, but at the same time, deal with the fact that we are dealing with a world that is falling apart.”

Madden Gray is deeply concerned with the state of the world at the moment – where the environment and society seem at the brink of collapse. “Everyone knows the meaning of Christmas, that’s not particularly novel. But I do think, what are we all doing to connect at a grassroots level? What are we doing? And what can we do? As much as we are in a quite polarised situation in so much of our society – I think we are in quite a scary place of polarisation – there’s action and there’s possibility.”

The show will have all the mayhem, show-stopping numbers and ridiculousness that characterises Meow Meow shows, but there is a political side underpinning it. Madden Gray explains, “As much as I am ridiculous, I don’t take things lightly.”

“There will be some contemplation of ‘What are we actually doing on the planet?’ Because whatever faith or non-faith you are, that time of year is a chance to take stock of the potential of what we all have as humans, and how that’s going awry.”

While developing the show, Madden Gray mined Christmas traditions, but tried to take them to unexpected places, beneath the pomp and pageantry. “I love the sentimentality that comes out, and the awkwardness of what we think Christmas should be and how it manifests,” Madden Gray says. 

Apocalypse Meow: Crisis Is Born focuses on the importance of human connection and valuing that we are alive, and how that in itself is a miracle. A deep message, wrapped up in a glittering Christmas cabaret package.