If Noël Coward came back as three women songwriter-performers, would he be triple the fun? Find out for yourself by attending the marvelous threesome of sophisticated British charmers who call themselves Fascinating Aïda, and appear as part of “Brits Off Broadway” at the 59E59 Theaters. In their current show, Absolutely Fascinating, savvily directed by Simon Green, there is cunning choreography; a mischievous pianist, Russell Churney, who sometimes waspishly joins in the singing and dancing; and a trio of gamboling sheep in a number sardonically extolling the peaceful torpor of New Zealand over the fearful turmoil elsewhere.
But mostly there are the three inspired women: irrepressibly versatile Dillie Keane, a sort of naughtier Angela Lansbury, who wrote most of the music and some of the lyrics; statuesque, subduedly sexy Adèle Anderson, co-lyricist and deadpan poison-dart thrower; and the relative newcomer, curly-blonde Liza Pulman, sassy specialist in soprano pinpricks. They perform individually, with or without the others as backup, or in various combinations. The material extends from lancing political satire and justly jaundiced social commentary to jabs of melancholy sentiment. Their targets are universal, and their barbs are at home anywhere. They have been honing their craft and craftiness off and on for twenty years: Whether mocking modern art or beating up on George W. Bush, assessing hotel-afternoon adultery or cutting up cosmetic surgery, their words, like their sparkling music, are never less than diabolically dead center.
There is ingenuity in Julia Jordan’s interweaving of several diverse lives into a provocative tangle of a play, innocuously titled Boy. A failed actor, Mick, returns to the Twin Cities after three years in New York and L.A. His abandoned girlfriend, Sara, an advanced medical student, is loath to readmit him into her life and bed. Meanwhile, Maureen, an overqualified and disgruntled lit teacher at a community college, is fascinated by the writing talent of a 17-year-old-student, the eponymous Boy (no name given). Boy has been through highly traumatic experiences with four chums, the details of which emerge as he is treated by a therapist, Terry, with grave problems of his own.
“Their words, like their sparkling music, are never less than diabolically dead center.”
How these five interact in the shadow of drugs, murder, and suicide—with George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss as a curious leitmotif—constitutes a story hovering precariously on the edge of contrivance, but does, at any rate, hold our interest. Joe Calarco has directed tightly, in a simple single set by Michael Fagin that succeeds in doing multiple duty until (understandably) stumbling over a bridge across the Mississippi. There is solid acting by T. R. Knight (Boy), Kelly AuCoin (Mick), Caitlin O’Connell (Maureen), Robert Hogan (Terry), and Miriam Shor (Sara), though it wouldn’t hurt her to project a bit more. The way Boy plays with the sequence of events in a 24-hour period, although a trifle strained, adds titillating mystery. We come out, however, feeling more manipulated than enlightened.
Here Lies Jenny is an hour’s worth of Kurt Weill songs culled from various periods and lyricists. Conceived and directed by Roger Rees, Jenny is the story of a weather-beaten chanteuse, down but not out in a shady dive, interacting with a cynical singing bartender and two predatory male dancers—sometimes robbing or manhandling her, sometimes lithely partnering her in sensual dances neatly choreographed by Ann Reinking. The dialogueless scenario refuses to jell, and is performed by Bebe Neuwirth somewhat unconvincingly, except when she slinkily dances. She sings tolerably in English, and less idiomatically in snatches of French and German, and altogether belongs much more in Kander & Ebb Chicago than in Weill country. The best work comes from Leslie Stifelman, remarkable at the piano. Typical of the sloppiness of the undertaking is that one of the lyricists, Maurice Magre, is misspelled “Margre”; other missteps are less marginal.