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A CurtainUp Review
Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance!
By Elyse Sommer
If you saw her much heralded "Royal Tour" four years ago, you'll know her own summary of what it's about is right on the button -- "exactly like my last show -- only new."
Edna claims that hers is the kind of show you could bring your grandmother to and last Saturday's matinee audience was filled with plenty of them to prove it . . . several happy to help the grand Dame show off what she does best: Chatting up people in the first four or five rows, asking questions about where they live and what they do and eventually bringing them on stage as willing victim-participants in her zaniness. Invariably, at least one of these amateurs hauled into the limelight has some of Edna's own hamm-y instincts which could prove hazardous to a less skillful performer. But as the talkative Anne from Plainview at last Saturday's matinee proved when asked about her ranch home's decor (she volunteered the information that Churchill had mink floor mats), Dame Edna knows how to let such guests break up the audience, without relinquishing her always firm hold on the spotlight.
The "with a vengeance" part of the new show's title is supported by a grander production. That includes some eye-catching choreography by two Gorgeous TestEdnarones instead of just two Gorgeous Ednaettes and more spectacular than ever costumes to show off Dame Edna's hefty curves.
When the lights dim Edna, purportedly from her own cellphone in the limousine bringing her to the Music Box, issues one of Broadway's funniest advisories for proper audience behavior (maybe there could be a a special Tony category for best cell phone/candy wrapper announcements). Then, the two fellows in blue suits and dark glasses who were stationed at the foot of each aisle as if on the lookout for terrorists rush on stage to help Dame Edna Everage step out of the giant harlequin eyeglasses version of Cinderella's slipper. (The dark-suited pair's initial mission might have been to spot potential involuntary partners for Edna's shenanigans).
The whole stage is ablaze in red (except for her hair which is the usual garish and bouffant lavender) -- from a huge ruffled velvet backdrop curtain which in the second act is raised to turn the set into Edna's Manhattan penthouse with a panoramic view (a scenic prop that she says she got at a discount because it wasn't new -- per the long gone Pan Am sign on one of its skyscraper). Edna's red gown is quickly ripped away to reveal a white sequined dress that reveals more luscious curves and legs.
Being a guest on these shores the Dame stays clear of politics but, being Edna, not completely. Thus she declares that with her return to Broadway coming right after a presidential election, "it must be remarkable to hear somebody speaking in their own voice" and she confides that she congratulated President Busch on his second term election with a gift of a word-a-day calendar.
With typical Ednaesque modesty, the Dame justifies her audience baiting by likening it to Jesus and the disciples. Since the disciples didn't say "I hope Jesus doesn't pick on me today" so should the people she enlists as participants feel honored rather than picked on.
Ednamaniacs will be delighted to see Edna aiming her arrows at previous targets, like the "paupers" or "mizzies" in the balcony. Since the Music Box unlike her previous home, the Booth, has two large loges at either side of the stage, she sends an "I mean this in a caring and loving way" poison bouquet that way as well.
Inevitably with this sort of improvisation, no matter how adept and prepared for all eventualities the improviser is, some material falls flat. The case in point this time, as last time, was the live telephone call to a relative of an on stage "victim" -- in this case the mother of a young woman who, with her husband was subjected to Dame's brand of marriage counseling.
Edna's return after the "pause for reflection, " features a long skit that brings audience members Edna "prepped" in the first act on stage to audition as various members of her own Girl From Oz saga. I found the drop-down set more amusing than this skit, an opinion not shared by most in the audience. Yet, even as my interest in the material waned, there was always that quivering mouth and wicked gleam in the eyes to keep me laughing. And when she once again showered the audience with her trademark gladiola, the less than funny moments were forgotten and I too waved the gladiola I caught. Edna isn't too far off track in her "humble" opinion that "this is the nicest show in town."
For a review of Dame Edna's last Broadway gig go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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