Several weeks ago we gushed in advance about Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret, how it was helping keep the spirit of strange alive and thriving in SF. Tucked into the Great Star Theatre at the mingling of Chinatown and North Beach, where neon lights invite you through the misting fog to lean into mystery, the Cabaret delivered above and beyond expectations.
The nautically themed show began with Robichaud – a top ten finalist on season 5 of The Voice – costumed as half a person in the process of being swallowed by a shark as she and her Darling Misfits (including notably the excellent pianist and entertainer Brendan Getzell who also hosts The Hotel Utah’s open mic) swept through a pop music medley sampling well over a dozen songs. Beginning with the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”, and meandering beautifully, the medley ended with David Bowie‘s “Life on Mars” … “Sailors fighting in the dance hall / Oh man! / Look at those cavemen go / It’s the freakiest show.” Then Robichaud ripped off the shark to reveal an emerald mermaid in shimmering sequins. The next popcorn-and-champagne-infused three hours were a delight of drag, burlesque, adult puppetry and original music.
With five cabaret weekends under her belt since September of 2015, Robichaud, who writes two original songs for each show, now has an album’s worth of original songs. She’s running a Kickstarter campaign to record ten of them. We caught up with her to find out more about how the show came together and how she came to steer this ship.
SFCRITIC: Where did the idea for the Misfit Cabaret come from?
KAT ROBICHAUD: I had started playing my Darling Misfits songs as a two person lounge act- me and a keyboardist. I discovered that I really loved the sort of Bette Midler bathhouse persona I was building and it was really fun riffing with the audience. Jordan Nathan (one of Great Star Theatre’s owners), caught the show one night and approached me about producing a big variety show together. I had already been implementing drag and circus into my rock shows as a buffer between sets, and I had also started adding theater elements to my own performances. For example, we covered Bryan Adam‘s “Everything I Do, I Do For You” dressed in bloody Jason masks and I had an actor friend lay on the ground covered in a bloody tarp, which I sing to the entire time. At the end of the song, she springs up, I yell “you’re still alive????” She runs off stage screaming, the crowd laughs, and the band launches into the actual set. I think it made a few people scratch their heads, but they won’t forget that performance. It was the beginning of an idea and it was serendipitous that I met Jordan when I did. We named the show “Misfit Cabaret” after my band The Darling Misfits and we ran with it.
SFC: We were face-hurt from smiling all through Justin Seagrave‘s adorable acoustic story-songs, and doubled over during Carnie Asada‘s performance – a hilarious lip sync mashup of “Part of that World” from the Little Mermaid and a clip of a foul-mouthed outburst. How do you know when a performer is right for the show?
KR: Good question! I go out to a lot of various shows and keep a mental rolodex of performers that excite me. I first saw Carnie do her Ariel Tourettes performance at Heklina’s Daytime Realness. I saw Frankie Fictitious‘ hula performance at Hubba Hubba*. I heard Justin Seagrave’s whimsical songs at Bazaar Cafe. When Jordan and I decided to do a nautical themed show, I already had my cast in mind. For Cinepheilia, our cult-film-themed show, I had to have Grace Bones, who did an incredible Pulp Fiction strip tease that I had seen at Hubba. Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, who does an incredible Joan Crawford and who is operatically trained, was also the perfect fit for Cinepheilia. With our up-coming show in October, “A Very Bloody Misfit Cabaret”, I’m bringing in a few favorite performers that specialize in gore: a professional Frank ‘n Furter (from Rocky Horror Picture Show) that I did an art show with in LA, and Carletta Sue Kay, who I’ve actually been trying to get in the show for a year. Curating Misfit Cabaret is ridiculously fun. I love making all the puzzle pieces fit.
*Author’s Note: The Hubba Hubba Revue, a burlesque variety show, happens Monday nights at DNA Lounge. It’s 10 year anniversary is coming up on September 9th. Tickets and more info here.
SFC: You write at least two original songs for each variety show. Do you write them after you know the theme and general run-down of the show or do they come spontaneously and you fit the theme around them?
KR: For the most part, I write them after I know the theme. There are two songs in which that was not the case. “My Escape” is a love song I had previously written but hadn’t released and it fit perfectly with Misfit Cabaret’s Wilde Women (an Oscar Wilde/ Moulin Rouge themed night). “Artists” was a song that was unfinished and floating around my head until we decided to do a cult movie show, and that gave me the direction I needed to finish it. That’s the awesome thing about writing original music for the show- I give myself a deadline, which forces me to create, rather than me saying to myself “oh, I’ll write a new song someday soon”, and I also give myself loose parameters, which helps my ever-floaty brain go “ok, you can pretty much write any kind of song you want about anything, but it has to fit with this particular theme in some way”.
Some songs are right on the nose, like “White Snow, White Dress”, which I wrote for Cinepheilia, and it’s about Edward Scissorhands. Others are stretches, like “A Song for David Bowie”. Right around the time I was writing for Whimsea, David Bowie, my #1 musical love, passed away, so I felt compelled to write a song about him. In order for the song to work with the nautical theme, I made it take place on a beach. Problem solved. Haha. The songs work as contemporary rock/pop/”whatever genre you want to put it in” songs outside of the show. You don’t need to see Misfit Cabaret to get them or to enjoy the album. And speaking of the album, we have a Kickstarter going on right now to make it happen! You can contribute here.
SFC: All of the costumes at your July show were truly stupendous, but particularly yours. Tell me more about them.
KR: Well, thank you! I do love to play dress up. Some of the clothing is vintage thrift store finds, like my trashed 60s pink prom dress in “The Last Waltz of The Wrights”. I made the tear-away Jaws shark costume from some cheap Amazon/Ebay finds. My mermaid outfit was a trip! The green sequined mermaid skirt was by my friend Dallas Coulter, who makes pretty much all of the outfits for RuPaul’s Drag Race stars. She also made the white corset I wore for “The Last Waltz of The Wrights”. My dazzling mermaid top was by Kaytee Papusza, who actually has an amazing couture mermaid line that everyone should check out! And my baroque mermaid halo headpiece was made and lent to me by a lovely patron of the show, Morrisa Sherman. My Bowie suit was a lucky find at Crossroads. All hail Crossroads. And all of my wigs are made by Laundra and Scarlett at Wigs by Tips.
SFC: What has the musical transition been like for you moving from rock bands, to The Voice and reality tv, and now to a mix of the two in this theatrical setting? Has your songwriting process changed?
KR: I was in a glorified cover band that mixed in our own original music during our bar sets. Because of the setting, the music had to be upbeat and danceable so people wouldn’t walk off the dance floor. After 8 years of touring, we broke up, and I went on The Voice. It was an incredible experience where I got to start pushing boundaries in a big way. And they really did let me be who I wanted to be…for the most part…within reason. I mean, it is marketed as a “family-friendly” show. At one point, I was wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier bondage piece at dress rehearsal (think Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour) and the wardrobe/hair/make-up team were all “YAS QUEEN” and the producers made me go and change into black pants and a jacket. The Voice gave me the opportunity to put out “Kat Robichaud and The Darling Misfits”, which was the third album I’d written but was the first time I was truly allowed to be myself without being restrained in some way.
And then I moved to San Francisco and in the 2 years that I’ve been here, a lot has changed. I got exposed and inspired by a ton of new local music and old music I’d never heard before, like Nina Hagen and Kate Bush. I saw a ton of jaw-dropping drag shows and was welcomed into the Edwardian Ball community. I didn’t get the idea of writing new songs for Misfit Cabaret until the second show, so when it came time to redo our first show at The Great Star Theater, I had to go back and write a theme song plus one of my favorite songs on the album “How it Feels to Be Loved”. I have always been a geek and I get obsessed when I discover a new tv show or movie or book to the point that I have to write about it. “Burn” from my second album “Young America” is about The Hunger Games. “Somebody Call The Doctor” from my third album “Kat Robichaud and The Darling Misfits” is about Doctor Who. So I’ve always been working towards this — writing an album that is the ultimate inner-child geek-out and completely embracing it.
Some songs are obvious, and some are loose interpretations of stories. Most are about longing to fit in. Some of the songs are personal and were painful to write. I have one song about alcohol that’s disguised as a vampire. The most exciting thing about all of this is risking being a fool and then having it work. I wrote a song about “Edward Scissorhands” told from the perspective of Edward. This has been one of my favorite movies ever since I saw it in the first grade, and I identify deeply with Edward. I performed the song dressed as Edward Scissorhands and I built these enormous functioning scissorhands with vintage scissors that patrons gifted to me. I was truly terrified that I was putting myself out there for total rejection and crickets, and I ended up getting a standing ovation from the crowd. I truly hope I get that scared before every new performance. It’s an incredible rush. Every new cabaret is a test in how far we can push it.
I recently found a quote from C.S. Lewis that I love. “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” I think I’m old enough.
Interview by Annie Bacon / @anniebacon