Don Adkins, Managing Editor, June 20, 2016
I've read that there's a large percentage of Americans who are Anglophiles, either openly or somewhat closeted, who love everything British, from their wonderful comedy series, movies, and probably some just because of Downton Abbey all by itself. We are truly fortunate that the enterprising venue of 59E59 Theaters each year mounts their Brits Off Broadway series. Wonderful productions abound in this year's offerings, transporting the immense talents of our theatrical relatives from across the pond right into our own backyard.
I had the distinct pleasure of attending a performance by one of Britain's preeminent cabaret artists who has been performing for well over thirty years, most often through her antics with a group she formed back in 1983 called "Fascinating Aida," an all-female comedic singing trio performing primarily original material and carving out their own unique niche. The mastermind behind the trio and the star of this current cabaret event, Hello Dillie!, is none other than Dillie Keane, accompanied by Michael Roulston on the piano (though Ms. Keane has a long history of playing for herself, and does so in a few instances in this current show). Staying in front of the piano allows her full attention to be focused on putting over each and every song in her own inimitable style where the lyric and rhyme scheme are the main attractions, along with her looks to the audience, or her raised eyebrow.
Her material, all written either by herself, or with her long-time writing partner, Adèle Anderson, has an almost English Music Hall sensibility, melding the style and panache of Noël Coward, with maybe a little Sandy Wilson thrown in for good measure. The current show presents all the ups and downs of love, but these wonderful old-style songs include modern references ("Internet Love"), there's a Kurt Weill-esque number ("Go Back to Surabaya, Johnny"), and then she turns on a dime to the achingly poignant ("Little Shadows"). While her current singing voice shows a bit more wear than in the past, it doesn't diminish a bit of her sharp ability to hold an audience and making the most of every lyric (what she could do with a Sondheim song would be mind-blowing). Her interpretive skills are at such a high level, I could only find myself thinking of how she might have portrayed many of musical theater's most iconic roles over the years, but her art lies in her communicative skills through storytelling, and that is the hallmark of the intimate realm of cabaret. She is quite personable, and the patter between songs is almost as entertaining as the songs themselves. One story about visiting a psychic made me wish I could see her as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit, while another standout was a song with threatening overtones ("Pam") that through the rhyming structure and delivery, conjured up a musical Bette Davis.
There are not many opportunities in life to see an artist of this calibre--especially as she is based in England and her performances in America have been few and far between. Try to catch one of her remaining performances in the smallest of the theaters at 59E59, where the audience sit at tables and is encouraged to bring in their drinks from the bar downstairs, where they've named a drink in her honor--the "Aida-tini." Performances run Tuesday through Sundays through July 3rd.
More news regarding British culture is available in ZEALnyc's The London Report: What's Happening This Summer on the Art and Gallery Scene.
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Don Adkins, ZEALnyc's Managing Editor, writes various cultural and lifestyle features.