Regional Reviews: San Diego
Dame Edna: My First Last Tour
Dame Edna took the U. S. by storm in 1999, ran for most of a year on Broadway in The Royal Tour, won the 2000 Special Tony Award for Live Theatrical Presentation, and then toured successfully throughout the U. S. She returned in 2004 with Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance, ran for fewer performances on Broadway and was nominated for but did not win the special event Tony. This time, she skipped New York altogether and is wrapping up her U.S. tour prior to launching a new tour of Britain this fall.
The show is called Dame Edna: My First Last Tour, and it is subtitled "A meditation on gender and post-election trauma. But it's mostly the same old shtick, half-heartedly repackaged.
The no-intermission evening begins with a video spoof of one of those cheesy "dig up the dirt" exposés of celebrity lives than run on television. In it, we meet Edna's "Svengali-like" manager, Barry Humphries and see pictures of her children, including the infamous Kenny, who runs around singing show tunes and who has taken charge of designing Dame Edna's over-the-top wardrobe. The spoof starts out in a promising manner, but it quickly deteriorates, and Dame Edna herself appears to protest and have it stopped. She muses about who would have played such a trick on her (we eventually find out, but both the plotline and the joke go nowhere).
Then, the lights come up on the first six rows in the house, and Dame Edna launches into her routine of finding people to insult. She does a lot of familiar things for those who have seen previous shows: she nails a pair of latecomers (who turn out to be plants); she collectively insults the balcony; she leads the audience in singing "Friends of Kenny"; she calls people up on stage; and she distributes gladiolas, lots of gladiolas.
But the spark is gone. Instead of feeding someone an Italian dinner or calling someone's babysitter from the stage, Edna breathlessly announces that HBO has brought miniature hidden cameras to the performance to record the pilot of a talk show featuring ordinary people as guests. Of course, talk shows rise and fall on the quality (or quirkiness) of the guests, and Edna's "victims" in this segment were more like deer in the headlights than anything else. When the highlight of the show is a local woman reluctantly singing "O Tannenbaum" in German, you know something's wrong.
Perhaps the culprit in this mess is Dr. Barry Humphries AO. C.B. E., as he lists himself in the program. Dr. Humphries "devised and crafted" the show, and he gives himself a longer bio in the program than he deigns to give to the Dame herself. And, he gives himself the last bow at the end of the show (which is actually kind of a neat trick).
But, then, maybe the poor girl is just tired.
In all fairness, there were lots of people laughing, including one gentleman in front of me who uproariously greeted every attempt at humor during the evening. So, if you've never seen Dame Edna, you might find her new show to be reasonably funny. Then again, you might also come away wondering what all the fuss was about.
Broadway San Diego A Nederlander Presentation, in association with Wombat, Inc., presents Dame Edna: My First Last Tour. Devised and crafted by Dr. Barry Humphries AO. C.B.E., with additional material by Andrew Ross, who also plays piano onstage. Including an important interruption by Australian Diplomat Dr. Sir Leslie Colin Patterson, and introducing Erin-Kate Whitcomb aka Valmai. Lighting Design by Thomas Hague; Costume Design by John Van Gastel and Stephen Adnitt; and Sound Design by Elton P. Halley. Plays June 2-7 at the Civic Theatre, in downtown San Diego. Tickets at 619-570-1100, or online at www.BroadwaySD.com