Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on November 24, 1999. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `Dame Edna’
Janet Reno wants me to do a makeover. She wants me
to bring out her hidden femininity," says Dame Edna, in a manner
so candid and with such sincerity it could serve as a lesson in
diplomacy. Yet it was not a major celebrity, but rather a Princeton
couple in 10th row center aisle seats that bore the brunt of many
of Dame Edna’s scabrous barbs on the night that I attended "Dame
Edna: The Royal Tour." Among the other good sports, they surely
knew what they were in for, if only from having seen Dame Edna on
TV. After just a few more of Dame Edna’s intentionally nosy inquiries
into the affairs of others in various locations in the house, it was
evident that people had come from far and wide to be in the presence
of this endearingly egotistical self-made "superstar."
Notwithstanding her illusions of being an investigative journalist,
chanteuse, swami, adviser to British royalty, grief counselor,
and icon, Dame Edna is to be seriously considered as a force for the
millennium. How fulfilling it must feel to know you have become one
of the growing numbers of the rich, the famous, but mostly less
persons who have served as foils for Dame Edna’s now almost legendary
brand of mischievous mockery. Her self-satisfied pronouncements and
denouncements in regard to those individual close-to-home targets,
in particular, and her observations on society and propriety in
leave no doubt that she is an informed social anthropologist and
moralist of the first order. You will notice how important politicos
and glamorous showbiz celebrities play second fiddle to the more
and easily victimized at hand.
Wearing a different sequin-studded outfit for each act, supplied by
costumer Stephen Adnitt (plus, Dame Edna informs us, "divine
from my darling son Kenny"), and her mauve wig teased into a
steel helmet, Dame Edna could easily pass for Margaret Thatcher
for a role in "Absolutely Fabulous." To be sure, the majority
of the audience that roared with laughter almost continuously at the
self-important "Dame" from Australia, Edna Everage, would
have given anything to be singled out for ridicule.
Singled out, but not present for the purpose of sharing
her own troubles, are Dame Edna’s mother and grown children. Brief
histories of her window dresser and dress designing son who lives
in Chelsea and has "so many friends," the daughter who lives
in Flatbush with a retired Czech tennis pro of the same sex, and her
mother who "lives in a maximum security twilight home," are
amusingly considered through rose-colored glasses.
Whether Broadway will join the rest of the English-speaking world
that has succumbed to Dame Edna’s upbraiding charms remains to be
seen. Despite my initial resistance, I have to admit that I was amused
(and mercifully left alone to take notes). Taking account of Dame
Edna is actor and artist Barry Humphries, who can say that he has
been more than merely receptive to his seductively garish creation
for about 40 years. In fact, she possesses him. Under Humphries’
indulgent direction, Dame Edna uses her chatty rapport with various
audience members to propel what is basically a rather old-fashioned
vaudeville act. It says something about our culture that we all
to take great pleasure in watching pretentiousness paraded and
That Princeton couple, having once admitted to Dame Edna that they
had left a baby sitter at home with their infant child, were submitted
to an on-again, off-again interrogation that eventually led to an
onstage phone call directly to couple’s home. Needless to say, Dame
Edna’s conversation with the sitter, and overheard by us all, left
no doubt that a certain baby-sitter’s fees will soon go up. Dame
ability to keep a cross-current of conversations going is cause enough
for hilarity, but that she remembers the scores of first names as
she soliloquizes is amazing indeed.
In this flagrantly inane show, Dame Edna is assisted by two leggy
chorines called the "the gorgeous" Ednaettes (Roxane Barlow
and Tamlyn Brooke Shusterman), and pianist Andrew Ross. On those
when Dame Edna’s "hands-on-magic for yourself and for your wives,
children, significant others, and same sex partners" isn’t making
you howl or crawl under your seat, she has a few musical numbers to
keep things lively.
And what about the Dame’s dancing and singing? Well, if you’ve ever
been in an underground bomb shelter during the blitz when someone
in the crowd decided to help keep spirits up, then you have it. But
you can’t escape it either, especially when Dame Edna hands out
of gladioli and rehearses her "possums" for a slightly lewd,
sing-along stand-up finale. I have to admit that there is nothing
quite like this down-under Dame. HHH
— Simon Saltzman
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