Fascinating Aida

December 24, 2009

Fascinating Aida

59E59 Theaters  –  December 16 – January 3

If memory serves—mine usually does a reliable-enough job—the Fascinating Aida trio was consistently funny on its several previous stateside visits from Great Britain. Now, however, it’s this reviewer’s sad duty to report that the former felicitous time has passed. Dillie Keane, Adèle Anderson and Liza Pulman (currently occupying the slot that changes every so often) are only intermittently amusing. The extent of fall-off might come as a true cabaret shock to anyone who’s raved about the act to friends over the years. It sure did to me.

About two-thirds of the way through the first half of the two-act show they’ve brought to 59E59, Keane, Anderson and Pulman include a genuinely brilliant number, “The Markets,” that skewers finance mysteries like the functions of derivatives and short-selling. In their prolonged beg-off at the end of the second act, they once again tap into a screamer of a number, “Walmart Saves.” Repeated lyrics for this one go, “Jesus saves, but Walmart saves more.” And there are a couple of sweet closers that pack a certain signature sting, “Goodbye Old Friends” and “The Last Song of the Evening.”

If they can rise to those levels, they beg the question why they can’t keep the quality up. Yet, soprano Pulman, mezzo Keane and alto Anderson don’t—though they sing with consistently strong voices. Keane keeps up a certain appealing air—usually at the piano and habitually seeming just sufficiently and funnily inebriated enough not to give a damn. Still, most of what they do singly, doubly or all together feels arch and gives the impression of being delivered entirely in verbal italics. Possibly, this inflexible attitude is meant to be sardonic. It doesn’t register that way.

Making the proceedings—directed with concomitant archness by Frank Thompson—even more trying are the subjects Keane and Anderson, who apparently do all the tunesmithing, think are actually worth satirizing. Has my trusty, mentioned-above memory failed me so much about a turn called “Lieder” that I don’t remember it as something that got me yukking in bygone FA days? Or is it a freshly-minted ribbing of Marlene Dietrich’s off-key chanting—as presented complete with athletic carryings-on around wooden chairs. Whenever it was thunk up, it’s now at least 40 years too late.

(FYI: When Madeline Kahn introduced a similar number in a ’60s Upstairs at the Downstairs revue and then reprised it in Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles, it was a true howl.)

Twice, the women include a series of folk-song take-offs with contemporary angles—on, among other handy subjects, Queen Elizabeth II and sometime-Brit Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Oprah Winfrey. The mock-Bulgarian-mode songlets don’t tickle the funny bone. A go at the effect Viagra is having on sex-frazzled wives isn’t as dated as the Dietrich ode. No, it’s only about 10 years too late.

But wait, Walmart is also an easy target, and yet they’ve found a clever way into it. Maybe that’s the problem with too much of the drab material. There’s a song about immobilizing face-work, another about parents squandering their children’s inheritance, one about how nuclear-age atomic fall-out is likely to kill romance (this one is so graphic it borders on the stomach-turning), one about OSHA that—but what’s the point of going on? Keane, Anderson and Pulman already go on long enough to meager avail.


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