One certainly can’t accuse Dame Edna of false advertising. In the opening song of her jolly and naughty standup extravaganza, she tells us exactly what to expect: “There’s a little dance and a little song,” she chimes happily. “But mostly I make it up as I go along.” Certainly, plenty of the pointed, ever-amusing barbs she targets at her audience are finely scripted, and the setups for her audience-participation climaxes have been carefully calculated, but what sets Dame Edna apart is that you can never be quite sure what’s going to come out of her big mouth next.
For those who haven’t caught Dame Edna on TV or in previous live perfs — she last appeared in L.A. at the now-demolished Shubert — she is a widowed housewife-cum-international superstar. Her sense of self can be summed up by her bio in the program, which claims she “is probably the most popular and gifted woman in the world today.”
To be slightly more earthbound, she’s the creation of Barry Humphries, an Australian actor who has been donning Edna Everage’s gloriously pastel-colored wig and giant pink spectacles for more than 50 years now.
In her latest show, “Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance!”, the Dame does what she does best: Dress in fabulously campy clothing, poke fun at musical theater conventions with rather terrible songs, pick relentlessly on an unlucky few audience members who grab her attention in the front rows and generally insult the audience — whom she calls her “possums” — nonstop while making them love it at the same time. As another line from her opening song tells us, “It is exactly the same as my last show, but new.”
And who can blame her for not stretching creatively, when the audience so eagerly eats this shtick up?
Aided by her accompanist and collaborator Wayne Barker and a couple of attractive stagehands she calls the Ednaettes, Dame Edna provides quite a robust entertainment in “Back With a Vengeance!”. She sure can make an entrance — we first glimpse her sitting way up high on a giant replica of her pink spectacles — and watching her establish her relationships with aud members is probably the most entertaining part of the evening. “Where are you from?” she asked a latecomer, seemingly making her feel welcome. When the answer came back that she was from New York, Dame Edna still had the response ready, “Well, I’m from Australia and I still got here on time.”
If the show lagged a bit as the first act wore on, that was in part because she was saving her big audience-participation bits for the second act, which never flags. She brings a couple up onstage and provides them with some unnecessary marriage counseling, plumbing for details of their sex life with not-so-nuanced innuendo.
The evening peaks when she draws all her selected friends she’s been picking on up to the stage to perform a sketch, presumably a scene from the upcoming Broadway show about her life. “My prostate has been hanging over your head for years,” reads the gentleman playing the role of Edna’s late husband.
It’s crowd-pleasing stuff, and, just as she told us, it’s the same as her old stuff. But new.