Back To My Roots and Other Suckers

Barry Humphries' acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named "Back to My Roots" tour of Australia.

Barry Humphries’ acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named “Back to My Roots” tour of Australia.

The poison-tongued Les Patterson, an Australian attache in Baghdad with a penchant for reading Playboy, wearing a food- and booze-splattered pale blue suit (acquired circa 1970) and spitting generously with every sentence, showered the front rows with saliva from the minute he slunk onto the stage.

In Sydney on compassionate leave, Les peddled his trademark bigotries — against women, gays, anybody of any racial background not his own.

New character Dr. Owen Steele, a “pillar of Australian corporate life,” failed to fire. Steele and his crumbling empire were born out of recent local insurance scandals FAI, HIH and telco One-Tel, but could be easily adapted for Enron or Worldcom. His annual CEO address to shareholders of the Integrity Australia Insurance Group, though amusing, never really built momentum.

Next, Humphries emceed a homevideo projected onto the back of the stage. Fifty-year-old clips of children at a birthday party, leafy streetscapes and other suburban goings-on from Humphries’ childhood were accompanied by his trademark wry observations, at once scathing and a little sentimental. This segment, loaded with poignancies for Melbournians, nevertheless resonated with the Sydney audience.

Aussies have observed Dame Edna’s ascension in the U.S. in recent years with a mixture of pride and sheer horror: Despite the former suburban housewife’s massive popular appeal at home, the thought that she’s waving the Aussie flag abroad above her trademark forked tongue is sometimestoo much to bear.

Act two was all Edna. Wearing a new frock by William Goodwin (featuring toy koalas in eucalyptus branches), it began with a video sequence hosted by TV personality Richard Wilkins and featured clips of Edna conquering the U.K. and U.S. talkshow circuit before it cut to “backstage,” where she was surrounded by a bevy of local TV personalities.

She graced the stage shortly after: “The Americans sucked me dry, gave me nothing but awards and money,” she bellowed, though with vocal chords laboring significantly due to what sounded like a flu. Flanked by the high-kicking Ednaettes (Giovanna Fragomeli, Kym Johnson) and accompanied on piano by Andrew Ross, her schtick contained plenty of contemporary local material, which was impressive given Humphries’ hectic international touring schedule, plus the fact that it has been four years since he last toured Oz and he has not been based here in years.

The routine was a blend of musical numbers and chat, with Edna savaging one audience “senior” after another, eventually corralling them onto the stage to play-act a pivotal scene from her own life. A high point was an impromptu “marriage counseling” session for one hapless couple, with Edna phoning the woman’s surprised elderly mother-in-law; her husband could be heard wheezing into his respirator in the background.

Back To My Roots and Other Suckers

State Theater; 2,000 Seats; A$85 ($55) top

Production: An Ednacare Ltd. and Harley Medcalf presentation of a solo show in two acts devised, written and performed by Barry Humphries.

Creative: Musical direction and additional material, Andrew Ross; musical arrangements, Ross, Wayne Barker; choreographer, Jason Gilkison. Set, Derrick Cox; costumes, William Goodwin; lighting, Bob Bonniol; sound, Dan Scheivert. Opened July 4, 2003; reviewed July 16. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.

More Legit

  • Patricia Morison Dead: 'Kiss Me Kate'

    Patricia Morison, Stage Star of 'Kiss Me, Kate,' Dies at 103

    Barry Humphries’ acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named “Back to My Roots” tour of Australia. The poison-tongued Les Patterson, an Australian attache in Baghdad with a penchant for reading Playboy, wearing a food- and booze-splattered pale blue […]

  • Prince Harry Meghan Markle

    Who's on the Royal Wedding Guest List?

    Barry Humphries’ acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named “Back to My Roots” tour of Australia. The poison-tongued Les Patterson, an Australian attache in Baghdad with a penchant for reading Playboy, wearing a food- and booze-splattered pale blue […]

  • In the Heights

    'In the Heights': Warner Bros. Wins Movie Rights to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Musical

    Barry Humphries’ acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named “Back to My Roots” tour of Australia. The poison-tongued Les Patterson, an Australian attache in Baghdad with a penchant for reading Playboy, wearing a food- and booze-splattered pale blue […]

  • School of Rock

    'School of Rock' Captures the Heart and Soul of Messy Adolescence

    Barry Humphries’ acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named “Back to My Roots” tour of Australia. The poison-tongued Les Patterson, an Australian attache in Baghdad with a penchant for reading Playboy, wearing a food- and booze-splattered pale blue […]

  • From left, creators David Henry Hwang,

    David Henry Hwang Hopes Hillary Clinton Will See 'Soft Power'

    Barry Humphries’ acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named “Back to My Roots” tour of Australia. The poison-tongued Les Patterson, an Australian attache in Baghdad with a penchant for reading Playboy, wearing a food- and booze-splattered pale blue […]

  • LaChanze

    Stagecraft Podcast: LaChanze on 'Summer,' Tony Boosts and Dream Roles

    Barry Humphries’ acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named “Back to My Roots” tour of Australia. The poison-tongued Les Patterson, an Australian attache in Baghdad with a penchant for reading Playboy, wearing a food- and booze-splattered pale blue […]

  • Frozen Broadway

    'Frozen' North American Tour to Start at Hollywood Pantages

    Barry Humphries’ acerbic Dame Edna Everage, now a household name Stateside, was just one of an extensive gallery of heinous characters dusted off for his well-named “Back to My Roots” tour of Australia. The poison-tongued Les Patterson, an Australian attache in Baghdad with a penchant for reading Playboy, wearing a food- and booze-splattered pale blue […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content