Fascinating Aida: Absolutely Miraculous
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 17, 2009
This is the time of year when theatre presenters give their audiences holiday gifts. Often, these take forms you expect: Christmas Carols, shows about Santa Claus, revues with Rockettes in them—that sort of thing. Well, 59E59 has a gift for its audiences that's not like any of those things, but for me it has proven to be the most welcome addition to the December theatre roster. It's called Fascinating Aida: Absolutely Miraculous. And it is.
It's funny, too. Very, very funny. I wasn't sure what to expect: all I knew beforehand was that Fascinating Aida is a trio of British ladies who have been working together for a long time, who write their own musical material, and who have been in the US a few times in the past, very successfully. Now I know why.
The one at the piano is Dillie Keane, the de facto leader of the troupe. The tall, astonishingly elegant dark-haired one is Adele Anderson; she and Keane are the writers of the show, and have been 2/3 of Fascinating Aida for 25 years. The shorter, striking blonde one is Liza Pulman, the group's newest member. I called them ladies a while ago because that's key to who they are: following in the footsteps of Bea Lillie, the women of Fascinating Aida are proper, sophisticated, lovely, very respectable looking persons who are not afraid to get a little bit silly, a little bit racy, a little bit saucy when they face an audience.
Actually, make that very silly, very racy, and very saucy. But this show is never vulgar, even when it's deliriously risque.
Mostly it is sharply satirical. The show consists of some 21 musical numbers, usually performed by all three members of Fascinating Aida, although there are some solo pieces to showcase each of them. Their subjects cover a broad range, referencing everything from celebrity worship and botox to the Duchess of York and the current Broadway revival of A Little Night Music; lots of serious topics come under the microscope as well, including the current global recession, global warming, income disparity, and the spread of consumer culture. Do not fear: though there's a serious undercurrent that's ever-present, Fascinating Aida never takes itself seriously, and the show is fun and hilarious from end to end. I am loathe to give away any of their brilliant jokes; I'll give you one little taste of their humor by quoting this introduction to a song about nuclear proliferation: "This next song was written 22 years ago. A song is like a designer dress, really; keep it long enough, it'll come back in fashion."
This is a very smart show.
The ladies of Fascinating Aida are a wondrously simpatico trio, singing glorious harmonies and playing off one another effectively in sketch after sketch. They are terrific musicians and actors, as we discover in their specialties. Pulman has a surprising, thoughtful love song of most original stripe called "I Watched Two People" which she sings with a simplicity that sears. Keane does a Music Hall-ish comic bit called "Much More Married" that builds and builds 'til it brings down the house. And Anderson takes on the likes of Lenya, Lemper, and Dietrich in a remarkable piece of parody called, simply, "Lieder." You'll never be able to watch "Mein Herr" from Cabaret without cracking a smile after you see this.
So, in this, my last review before Christmas, I say thank you very much to the good people at 59E59 for bringing us Fascinating Aida: Absolutely Miraculous. Truly, the best gift a theatre-goer could ask for.