by Samuel L. Leiter


Take a pinch of Noel Coward’s patter, a soupcon of Elaine Stritch’s sass blended with a dash of Tallulah Bankhead’s slurry growl, a twinkle of Anthony Hopkins’s acting chops, and a smidgen of Lotte Lenya’s world weariness. Mix them all together and what you get is Dillie Keane, the buxom, bottle-blond, British cabaret singer-songwriter and actress currently holding forth in Hello, Dillie! as part of the 59E59 Theaters’ Brits Off Broadway Festival. This is Keane’s local debut as a solo although she’s been here several times as part of the terrific comedy singing trio, Fascinating Aïda (check them out on YouTube).


During its entertaining hour and a half (with one intermission), directed by Simon Green, the husky-voiced chanteuse, who joyfully admits to 64, rolls through 16 songs she either wrote herself or collaborated on with lyricist Adèle Anderson (also of Fascinating Aïda). They comprise a loosely autobiographical account, sometimes touching, sometimes comical, of her up and down love life. For the most part, these are story songs, often with a punchline zinger attached.


Performing on a raised platform in one corner of the intimate Theater C, set up cabaret style with tiny, candlelit tables, Keane demonstrates how charm, warmth, insight, intelligence, and acting talent can go a long way toward making even a voice ranging between a low buzz and a loud roar sound musically palatable. Her talents are assisted by tunes that, while melodically delightful, are perfectly aligned with her limitations, allowing her to half-speak, half-sing them. They may seem deceptively simple but only a master like Keane can bring them off with just the right blend of emotional richness and good-hearted (as well, occasionally, as naughty) humor. She’s friendly, earthy, even mildly flirtatious with gents up front, making a scripted performance seem totally spontaneous.


At several junctures, Keane’s elegant young British pianist, Michael Roulston, who knows just how delicately to hit the ivories without drawing focus, departs. She uses these moments to sing to her own accompaniment or regale us with delectable stories—supported by her spot-on dialect skills—about her encounters with various fortune tellers, like the Hungarian-Jewish tarot card reader she met while touring, of all places, in Canberra, Australia.


The show starts off with Keane yanking herself onto the piano where she instantly flops backwards to enact, while singing “My Average Morning,” the herculean task of getting out of bed after a night of carousing and not recognizing either her surroundings or the bedpartner beside her. She moves on to “Internet Love,” about a prospective online hookup that ends with “It cannot be, this love that might have been; He’s twenty, and I told him I’m sixteen.” This leads to her recalling the pre-online dating scene when people met at parties, hilariously recounted in “Shattered Illusions,” about dating a man whose seeming perfection turns out to be anything but; when she meets the perfect guy, however, it’s his illusions she herself will shatter.


Melancholy also pervades the evening. In songs like “Little Shadows” even the happiest of marriages has its untold secrets, while “Single Again” reflects the anguish of middle- age loneliness when a relationship ends: “People keep on saying there’s lots of other pebbles on the beach and it’s true; The trouble is that I don’t want a pebble I just want you.” One of the most complex numbers is “Pam,” whose lyrics—bitingly rhyming word after word with “Pam”—satirically rebuke a husband’s mistress: “Scram, Pam; This so-called love affair’s a sham, Pam.” Toward the evening’s end, Keane concludes that love resembles warfare, rousingly saluting it in “One Last Campaign.”


Keane includes a couple of pastiches, like “Surabaya, Johnny,” which recalls the Brecht-Weill-Hauptmann song of that name, and “Pudding in the Ritz,” a paean to the joys of chocolate pudding. Sexual comedy is also abundant, as in the heterosexual star’s pondering lesbianism in “Song of Sexual Re-Orientation,” or her description of how aging bodies and sex don’t always align (“With these knees?”), in “It Isn’t the Hokey Cokey Anymore.”

Hello, Dillie! It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.




Hello, Dillie!
59E59 Theaters/Theater C
59 E. 59 Street, NYC  –  Through July 3

Photos: Carol Rosegg