Diva Looks Like a Lady!

Dame Edna luxuriates in the glow of idolatrous fans

This season’s one-person show phenomenon continues apace, with Mario Cantone’s frenetic wank-off and then Whoopi Goldberg’s somewhat faded revival of her star-making 1984 vehicle, and now Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna.

She enters, bedizened to the nth degree by costumer Will Goodwin, tossing her trademark gladioli to a theater full of fans. Five years ago, with her Broadway debut, she took the town by storm by virtue of her savage wit and outrageous persecution of her audience. You’re sure to have a good time with her new show, as she will forever remain droll, possessed of Sahara-dry timing and a brilliantly unbridled mind and vocabulary. But, this time around, it must be admitted that the bloom is somewhat off the glad. Much of her material feels recycled from her last go-round, like her admittedly hilarious putdown of those people in the cheap balcony seats “Hear their wistful cries!”

She’s added some pungent digs at Dubya, but there’s nothing quite as satisfying here as Whoopi’s genuinely funny observance that “Condoleeza Rice always looks like she’s gettin’ some from him, when she comes off Air Force One.” I did, however, enjoy Edna’s comparison of herself to no less than Jesus Christ – never an ego problem with this self-described “giga-star.”

After all, what would Edna do without her audience, which, she admits in song, is her major source of material? No one since, maybe, Don Rickles has so blatantly exploited the paying viewers. She has a new gambit now, fishing the shoes off the feet of audience members with the use of a huge, quivering net extended into the stalls. Her putdowns of aforesaid footwear are bitchily mean, as are her appraisals of the rest of her victims’ attire. (“I don’t pick on people, I empower them.”) And then, to add excess to injury, she hauls these poor people up onstage to enact a scripted version of her early, pre-stardom life in Australia, as a warm-up for her upcoming musical, “The Girl from Oz.”

It’s at this point that one may stray a bit from the pack of idolatrous Edna fans. Seeing the good nature of thoroughly humiliated “plain folk” (who fork over $87.50 for seats), thoroughly tested, challenges one’s own tolerance level for bad clean fun. And why does Edna make a point of choosing similarly overweight, middle-aged suburban types to poke fun at? Wouldn’t the public torture of some Manolo Blahnik-type or downtown metrosexual be preferable? Their line readings prove to be ineptly amateurish – big surprise – and the Dame grimaces and expresses her distaste to the audience with the subtlety of a Trump Tower.

She has given herself a classy production, from the campily luxurious set to a cadre of winsome chorus boys and girls, the Edna-ettes and the TestEdnarones. They warble and cavort about her, and support her in the most shameless displays of “star non-dancing” since Lucille Ball managed to (barely) hoist an ankle in the movie version of “Mame.” (I do, however, miss the masochistically woebegone presence of her “New Zealand bridesmaid,” Madge Allsop.) Wayne Barker lends admirably tolerant support as her pianist. The show ends with more traditional flower tossing and the full-participation singing of the charming Gladiola song (“When you’re feeling so downhearted, you can barely move or talk/Just wave that glad, wave that glad and grab life by the stalk”) that, rather endearingly, turns the Music Box Theatre into a right-old Brit music hall.

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