Musical Comedy: Sung for laughs

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LIKE MILITARY intelligence, musical comedy can be one of those great oxymorons. There is a preternaturally high risk of wince-inducing embarrassment whenever a comic performer is in the same room as a piano. As evidence, I need mention only two words: "Richard" and "Stilgoe".

So it is the credit of the musical comedy trio, Fascinating Aida, that, far from wincing, their first-night audience at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on Tuesday was laughing heartily. The threesome - Dillie Keane, Adele Anderson and Issy van Randwyck - have long been adept at absurd juxtapositions. Done up like glamorous guests at a cocktail party thrown by Noel Coward, they effortlessly slip ignoble thoughts about, say, Richard Gere and gerbils into a perfectly executed piece of three-part harmony. They use a sweet form to deliver incongruously bitter content; many of their most upbeat songs are about disappointment and failure.

Their other skill lies in smoothly changing gear. Early on in their show, Barefaced Chic, they segued from "Best Seller", a romping ditty about Aga sagas ("Where women learn to be assertive,/ And there's lots of knobbing, but it's always furtive"), into a plaintive medley of songs about broken hearts.

Undoubtedly, Fascinating Aida are slick. The first half of the show, which is directed by Clarke Peters on an awayday from Chicago, neatly employs the conceit that the trio are backstage warming up and being chivvied by a stage-hand to get a move on. More than once during the evening, clever spills into clever-clever - I have to confess that their song about genetically modified food lost me.

Just occasionally, Fascinating Aida also teetered on the brink of being hackneyed, singing ditties that reminded me of the "humorous" musical section in That's Life. Songs about subjects such as Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton and Viagra are going to win originality awards only from people just returning from a two-year trek to the North Pole.

For all that, Fascinating Aida remain a sparkling act to look at and listen to. In one song, "Mr Springer", they dressed up as trailer trash and had a girl-gang fight as they sang about their problems: "Oh, Mr Springer, can I come on your show?/ My mum was my dad till a month ago."

And you have to warm to any act that can insert the following tasteless, topical couplet into a song about taboos: "Telling Basil Hume he talks a load of twaddle,/ Going in a wheelchair to meet Glenn Hoddle."

Fascinating Aida continues at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London (0171- 930 8800) until 6 March. Then touring nationally