Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance! Devised and written by Barry Humphries. Additional material by Andrew Ross, Robert Horn. With Wayne Barker, Master of the Dame's Musick. Production design by Brian Thomson. Lighting design by Jane Cox. Sound design by Dan Scheivert. Costumes by Will Goodwin, Stephen Adnitt. Choreography by Jason Gilkison. Lyrics by Barry Humphries and Wayne Barker. Music by Wayne Barker. Cast: Dame Edna Everage. Featuring The Gorgeous EdnaettesTeri DiGianfelice and Michelle Pampena. And the Equally Gorgeous TestEdnaronesRandy Aaron and Gerrard Carter.
Rejoice, possums! Even if you haven't spent the last four and a half years mired in the doldrums from the lack of amethyst hair and diamond-studded horn-rimmed spectacles on Broadway, you're about to be jolted out of your seat: You once again have the opportunity to bask in the purple and yellow glow of Dame Edna Everage, now making her all-conquering return to Broadway.
Dame Edna's new show at the Music Box is titled, appropriately, Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance!, and the ferocity with which "the most admired woman in the world" attacks the waning days of fall is enough to warm anyone up as the days get colder. After the recent dreary musical offerings Broadway has seen so far this season in Dracula and Brooklyn, this comic and musical kick of the thermostat doesn't come a second too soon.
And what a kick it is. From the moment Dame Edna makes her dazzling entrance atop a stage-spanning pair of red horn-rimmed glasses that descend from the flies, she holds court over nearly two and a half hours of solid laughter. True, she has to run roughshod over her audience to do it, but that's easy to do when they're captive with glee, and in the Dame's ecstatic presence, most audience members do it willingly. It's impossible to even be truly taken aback by her quips and insults; "I don't pick on people," she says, "I empower them." Is that why being made fun of and assaulted by thrown gladioli is never this much fun outside of Dame Edna shows?
Regardless, the show, written and directed by Dame Edna's longtime collaborator Barry Humphries (Andrew Ross and Robert Horn have provided "additional material"), is a triumphant tribute to the "glittering gigastar." He even helps reveal some of her lesser-known talents, encouraging her to hold a pedomancy session, telling people's fortunes by intensely examining their shoes - which she even gives back, eventually - and preside over a group-therapy marriage counseling session ("There will be pain," she informs the beleaguered couple she chooses, "but there will also be healing"). Is there anything Dame Edna can't do?
As if to prove the answer an unequivocal no, she even presents a scene from a play she's going to produce about her life, going so far as to audition audience members for various roles. Intended, Dame Edna insists, as serious drama, the brief, angst-filled kitchen-sink-drama playlet becomes fall-out-of-your-chair funny when those audience members make their smashing appearances as Edna's daughter Valmai, her leather-sporting son Kenny, her incontinent husband Norm, and her irrepressible bridesmaid Madge Allsop.
That they bringing down the house almost as easily as Edna herself does reveals an important part of Edna's charm: knowing when it's okay to be upstaged by little people. Though she jokes often about her show's uplifting, caring message (usually before viciously skewering someone for reading their Playbill or making an off-hand remark in an impromptu conversation with her), the audience is an integral part of the fun. When, during her opening number, she informs the audience that "This lovely intimate show is all about you," she's only half-joking.
That song, like the others sprinkled throughout the show, is the work of Wayne Barker ("Master of the Dame's Musick"), who also provides stirring piano accompaniment. The songs (which include the first act finale, "Edna is the Nicest Show in Town," and the finale "Wave That Glad," that turns the audience into a garden of gladioli) may not be sterling examples of fine musicianship - they're functional, which in this context is to say grin-inducing - but they allow Edna and her surrounding chorus kids (Teri DiGianfelice, Michelle Pampena, Randy Aaron, and Gerrard Carter) to strut their stuff and deliver some honest-to-goodness show-business pizzazz. The cheesy glitz (and sometimes Fosse-infused steps) of Jason Gilkison's choreography also helps, as do Brian Thompson's red-curtain-tinged production design, Jane Cox's lights, and Edna's son Kenny's sequin-heavy costumes. (For some reason, Will Goodwin and Stephen Adnitt are given Playbill credit for the costumes, but whoever's responsible, the garments are all gorgeously gaudy.)
If you're already familiar with Dame Edna's particular brand of wit and whimsy, I can't say how much you'll take away from Back With a Vengeance! that you might not have already received from her last Broadway outing, Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, or her many other stage and screen appearances. But as she says of her audience early on, "You are my wet stucco," and the glorious rococo comic creations she paints remain wonderfully worthy of the home they've found on Broadway.