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Fascinating Aida: Absolutely Miraculous

Diehard fans will find things in which to rollick; for others, the show is tough sledding.

With:
With: Adele Anderson, Dillie Keane, Liza Pulman.

British singing satirists Fascinating Aida have been around for 26 years now. But the identity of the Aida originally referred to is a bit of information evidently lost over the decades. Lost, too, is whatever made this trio so fascinating if they do say so themselves. Diehard fans and transplanted Anglophiles of a certain mindset will still find things in which to rollick — a fair share of them were at 59E59 for the show’s one preview. But for the non-anointed, “Fascinating Aida: Absolutely Miraculous” is tough sledding indeed.

The evening’s main asset is Dillie Keane, who sat in a West End wine bar in 1983 with two cohorts and devised the entertainment. Said cohorts are long departed, although Adele Anderson, who joined in 1984, can be considered an original member. Liza Pulman, who signed up just before the group’s last New York visit in 2004 (as part of 59E59’s first Brits Off Broadway season), is considerably younger.

Keane is a full performing partner, accompanying the show on piano as well as vocally. (No writing credits are given, but Keane seems to have written the music and collaborated with Anderson on lyrics and sketches.) Keane has the tools of a musical-comedy clown; a drooping lip or lazy eyebrow is enough to garner a big laugh. There’s no sense comparing her to the exalted Angela Lansbury or Bea Lillie, but she resides somewhere in their environs.

That said, “Fascinating Aida: Absolutely Miraculous” is at this point in its existence absolutely non-miraculous, so much so that this viewer was ready to bolt after an endless number about the O.S.H.A. (a British government health org, its attendant mirth lost in translation) was followed by two back-to-back duds early in the first act. “Getting It” is the tale of a lady getting “it” 10 times a night, since her partner started taking a little blue pill; “I’m Saving Myself” is about a spinster who wears gloves and sings about beavers.

If this is cutting-edge British musical cabaret, we’ll just have to wait for Elaine Stritch. (The cell-phone voiceover at the top of the show announced Stritch was playing Anderson’s role; alas, this was simply a lame joke.)

There’s a big number about rich ladies devoting their time to charity, wearing snakeskin Manolos; another about middle-aged women pleading with their luxury-loving octogenarian parents (“Mama Don’t Spend Me Inheritance!”); an extended number in which the far-north Shetland Islands turn calypso, apparently due to global warming; and a tedious ditty which tells us that “Jesus Saves, but Walmart saves you more.”

There are two pleasant songs, “I Watched Two People” and “Goodbye Old Friends,” which succeed despite or because they don’t try for laughs. There’s also a terribly dated satire about Marlene Dietrich (“Doesn’t matter if the notes are all wrong and people are squirmin’/Just make the notes up as you go along and pretend you’re German”) which is nevertheless pretty funny. Especially when Keane plays piano with her heel and a hi-hat cymbal with her teeth, otherwise pounding away at the keys with her ear touching the floor.

Fascinating Aida: Absolutely Miraculous

59E59 Theaters; 199 seats; $45 top

Production: A Brits Off Broadway, Theater Projects Trust, London, presentation, in association with Nick Brooke, of a musical in two acts by Fascinating Aida, with additional material by Carl Ritchie. Directed by Frank Thompson.

Creative: Lighting, Ben Hagen; sound, Ken Hypes. Opened Dec. 17, 2009. Reviewed Dec. 16. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: With: Adele Anderson, Dillie Keane, Liza Pulman.

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