Fascinating Aïda: The Spinal Tap of the cabaret world

Fascinating Aïda. Image shows left to right: Marilyn Cutts, Dillie Keane, Adèle Anderson

Musical comedy group Fascinating Aïda are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, having been formed in 1983. "Britain's raciest and sassiest cabaret trio" - whose big hits include Cheap Flights and Barefaced Chic - are on tour until November, and then more dates follow in February, including a run at the London Palladium.

Here Dillie Keane, who has a consistent presence in the group across the last four decades, talks us through the group's changing line-ups...

Fascinating Aïda

Fascinating Aïda is the Spinal Tap of the cabaret world. Much as Spinal Tap's history can be told in drummers, ours can be told in sopranos. However, none have choked on their own vomit or expired through spontaneous combustion.

There were times when I could quite cheerfully have made a pious but delighted mourner had any one of them met their maker in a bizarre gardening accident, but my better self is glad to report that all ex-sopranos are alive and well, some presumably still kicking whoever is nearest. I shall try to restrain myself in the following descriptions.

The originals

Lizzie Richardson (1983 March-October)

A Canadian beauty with a voice like a linnet, the sweetest disposition of anyone I ever met and a genius for catching the wrong train/getting lost/going to the wrong venue like no other. We'd been friends from drama school and loved singing together. She wore a hilarious look of startled offence while singing our smuttier lyrics. Broke my heart when she went back to Canada.

Marilyn Cutts (1983-1986)

We met at Crewe Repertory Theatre and, in spite of our very different characters (she organised and meticulous, me disorganised and scatty), we became friends.

The three of us started singing regularly at a wine bar in West Hampstead, and a while later got ourselves onto the alternative cabaret circuit, always headlining because we made more noise than anyone else. Marilyn didn't like the work much and tried to leave several times, but stuck with us till the end of our first Australian tour in 1986.

Fascinating Aïda. Image shows left to right: Dillie Keane, Adèle Anderson, Marilyn Cutts

The replacements

Glenda Smith (November 1983 - January 1984)

A beautiful voice of pure cream but she didn't have a consonant in her head, which is a feature of opera singing. Consonants, you see, interrupt the flow of beautiful music emanating from the gullet, and who wants to hear words at the opera? Unfortunately, ferociously good diction is a prerequisite in cabaret. Also, Glenda was growing her fringe out and thus half her face was obscured by a heavy curtain of glossy brown hair. All exhortations to get her to cut/pin back her fringe and give her Ts, Ps and Ks a bit more biff proved fruitless, so we sacked her. She was nice enough but went off with my entire collection of sheet music collected over 15 years and I never saw it or her again.

Adèle Anderson (January 1984 - present day)

Not a soprano. Need I say more. Well, okay, I will. Adèle has been the rock upon which I built my church, if you don't mind the religious reference. Bless her, she has stuck it out through thick and thin. Very low maintenance as a human being, loves touring. I made her a Dame of the Cabaret Empire in 1986 as she can summon up magnificent hauteur at times of need.

Sheila Rock

We'd auditioned half of London to try and replace Marilyn and finally settled on the heavily pregnant Sheila Rock which wasn't very practical but we didn't want to discriminate. However, when we returned from Oz in March 1986, her request that her best friend become our road manager-cum-nanny, and that her husband join us as bass guitarist, wasn't really practical and we agreed to part our ways.

Caroline Bernstein

Very nice girl with a cracking audition song but when it came to doing our material, it became glaringly obvious that she wasn't right. She took the news with incredible grace. Sorry, Caroline, you were a delight.

Fascinating Aïda. Image shows left to right: Adèle Anderson, Denise Wharmby, Dillie Keane

Denise Wharmby (1986-1989)

After we'd fruitlessly auditioned the other half of London, the Home Office agreed to grant a work visa to this Aussie songbird. High spirits, high octane, high maintenance, high notes. Terrific pianist and diamond sharp voice. But she tired of the work and wanted out. Having gone through endless exhaustive auditions before, I couldn't face any more. So we decided to dissolve the group and did our first farewell run at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Lesley Anne Knight (various private party gigs 1989-90)

Lesley Anne was a really smashing girl with a sweet voice who filled the gap nicely. She now teaches singing in Oxfordshire, I think.

Fascinating Aïda. Image shows left to right: Adèle Anderson, Issy Van Randwyck, Dillie Keane

Baroness Issy van Randwyck (1994-1999)

Victor Lownes (Mr Playboy UK) brought her to my 40th birthday party and said "She should be in your group". As a man of great artisitic sagacity, I took his words seriously and went about reforming Fascinating Aïda. High spirits, high octane, high maintenance, middle notes.

We had 5 years with Issy, four and a half of which were marvellous and 6 months of which were miserable as she'd decided she wanted out. We were, however, only halfway through the shelf-life of our latest show, Barefaced Chic, which I'd taken a year off to write. So I was buggered if I was going to let that go, I was so proud of that collection of songs.

Fascinating Aïda. Image shows left to right: Adèle Anderson, Charlotte Nytzen, Dillie Keane

Charlotte Nytzen (3 gigs in October 1999)

After auditioning all the sopranos in the UK all over again and finding no-one, in desperation I suggested a Californian girl I'd been in Russia with ten years earlier. Ravishingly beautiful with the most beautiful set of pipes I'd ever worked with, she agreed to join the group for the duration of that show.

High octane, high maintenance, high notes, high drama. She was also going through great complications in the love department and the pressure of it all got to her, and so she lost her voice. She managed three gigs - the audiences loved her - but when she asked to cut her beautiful solo because it was "too much" for her voice, I knew the jig was up and she returned to America.

Fascinating Aïda. Image shows left to right: Marilyn Cutts, Adèle Anderson, Dillie Keane

Marilyn Cutts (1999-2004)

Marilyn bravely learned the show in a week and fished us out of the soup. She enjoyed the tour so much she suggested we do another show. I knew how much she disliked the never-ending nature of being part of a group, so I suggested that we call the show One Last Flutter and then call it a day. I couldn't see myself auditioning Europe again, as I was pretty tired of the struggle of keeping a 3-woman group together. Unfortunately, she hated doing One Last Flutter from Day 1 of rehearsal and she left while we still had contracts to fulfil.

Bonnie Langford (3 gigs in March 2004)

Bonnie agreed to come to Israel and then New York with us as we worked out the last of our contracts. After doing one private gig brilliantly, she decided she couldn't face Israel. We, in turn, couldn't face rehearsing different sopranos for these two runs. So, once again, we were on the hunt.

Image shows left to right: Dillie Keane, Liza Pulman, Adèle Anderson, Fascinating Aïda

Liza Pulman (2004-present day)

Sometimes, I am tempted to think there is a God and that he/she sent us Liza Pulman. Some years before, my pal Michael Fitzgerald (he who gave us the name, Fascinating Aïda) mentioned a singer with a lovely voice and a vivacious comic personality. At the end of my rope, I turned to him and said, "Who was that singer, and find her NOW, PLEASE!" That singer was Liza Pulman.

She loves the work, she likes meeting people after the shows, she has developed a talent for writing the lyrics, and she is an all-round mensch. She sings like a linnet and she's a bloody good cook. She doesn't think that we're preventing her Broadway career. Not only that, she has married an old friend of mine. She puts up with me and Adèle. We are family.

Sarah-Louise Young (2009-2010)

Liza needed to take a year off and the glorious Sarah-Lou stepped in as her very much more than adequate replacement. She was a terrific group member, and will always be family. But I'd promised Liza that her place in the group was sacrosanct and she came back. Actually, I'd really promised myself, because it's Liza that gives us the stability to plan long term and be happy. Thank you Liza.

And thank you Adèle. We contraltos know a good job when we see it.

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