Every time I go to the theater, I’m a little amazed by what people choose to wear. Theater tickets are, in general, not cheap, and it seems like paying that kind of money to go out would mean it’s a special occasion. And aren’t special occasions those times when one dresses up? But perhaps I have it all wrong. Maybe these folks had to sell their smartest outfits in order to pay for their theater tickets. It’s a tragic tale straight out of O’Henry!
I bring this up because the attire of the audience is something Dame Edna will not let pass unnoticed, so if you decide to see the show, and have tickets in the first few rows, either clean yourself up, or be prepared for some vicious ribbing. (Dame Edna will insist she’s only trying to be helpful.)
I will admit that while I have always been aware of Dame Edna, I have never before taken in an entire show, and am most aware of the character through various appearances on PBS and BBC America. I had no idea she’s been around since the 1950s! That puts Edna, and her creator, Barry Humphries, in their 80’s (or, as Dame Edna says, “approaching 60, but from the wrong direction”). That’s a pretty astonishing run for character that came to life in a small Melbourne theater.
I imagine much of the show and shtick will be familiar to Edna’s biggest fans, or “possums,” but the video that opens the show, played within the stage’s giant bedazzled spectacles, serves as a good introduction to those less familiar. Presented as a tongue-in-cheek version of an “E! True Hollywood Story,” it includes vintage footage of Dame Edna, some testimony from celebs, (Hugh Jackman speaks of her years as an acting coach, and the traumatizing “private time” he had to endure after class), and other scandalous history.
Aside from videos, which begin and end the show, it’s pretty much all Edna, with the occasional back-up dancers for the musical numbers, and a pianist who remains on stage the entire time. Her interactions with the audience are the primary focus, and while all of this seems quite spontaneous and improvised, have no doubt, it’s well rehearsed.
She even manages to work the Bay Area into the show, with tales of her “disappointing daughter,” her daughter’s “partner,” and their house full of pit bulls in Visitacion Valley, discussion of which causes Dame Edna to–in a rather alarming moment–have a very physical reaction. This bit is also the evening’s only sour note, as it’s a bit of a rant that has no satisfying conclusion.
At the show’s end, after the audience has waved a virtual garden of Edna’s gladiolas (organically raised in her own garden, using her own manure, of course), there’s a surprise appearance by the man behind the woman, Barry Humphries himself. He gives a heartfelt thank you to the fans, and to San Francisco, assuring us all that this is, indeed, the end.
Followed by a plea that we all promise to come back for the next farewell.
Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour plays through March 22nd at the Orpheum Theatre.