Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Cincinnati will never be the same! Dame Edna, that eccentric Australian mega-star, has invaded this conservative Midwestern city for two weeks, and this town has never seen anything quite like her. The laughter heard at the Aronoff Center as part of the Broadway in Cincinnati season will surely still be reverberating long after this mistress of mayhem leaves town.
Dame Edna is the creation of Barry Humphries, and "she" has been winning the world over since the 1970s. A Night With Dame Edna, the show, is almost as difficult to describe as Dame Edna, the personality. The performance is stand-up routine, cabaret concert, and talk show, all with many unique twists and turns. Mostly, it is an intimate and sidesplitting conversation between a one-of-a-kind performer and her audience. Even though the Aronoff Center seats close to 2,700, Edna includes everyone in the program and sends her outrageous personality to each corner of the theater.
Hilarity is in large supply at A Night With Dame Edna. She promises a laugh a minute, but seldom do fifteen seconds go by without a collective wave of laughter. She has done her homework on Cincinnati, and includes many local personalities, places, and customs to great amusement. Few are spared from Edna's sardonic wit. Targeted in her barrage of endless barbs and quick (and very funny) ad libs are rich gray-haired theater subscribers, Christians, Jews, the "paupers" in the balcony, same sex partners, people with disabilities, Kentuckians, Eastsiders, and Westsiders, just to name a few.
Dame Edna is not politically correct in any way, but she doesn't try to be, and those chosen for ridicule hopefully know it is all in good fun. Even though the humor is often on the naughty side, the two hour and forty-five minute program (including one fifteen minute "Pause for Reflection") is refreshingly devoid of any foul language.
Audience participation is essential to the success of A Night With Dame Edna. Numerous jokes are thrown at specific members of the audience, and many of these theatergoers are later brought to the stage for further good-natured torture by this wonderful diva. Whether it is coming on stage to eat a meal or to try on cross-dressing costumes of the English royal family, it is very humorous. However, the evening's funniest moments come when a young couple is brought to the stage for "marriage counseling," creating chaos with every word and extracting tears of joy from the audience.
In addition to the dialogue, there is also singing and dancing. The first couple of songs are only generally amusing, but by the time Edna sings about her affection for "Friends of Kenny," the musical portion of the program meets the extremely high level of comedy sustained throughout the rest of the show. Supporting Edna on this tour are two lovely and leggy dancers/assistants, Teri DiGianfelice and Michelle Pampena, and pianist Wayne Barker; all are very talented in their own right.
Edna is supplied with festively flashy gowns designed by Stephen Adnitt. Her opening dress is adorned with beads and sequins, and her act two outfit is a sparkly salute to America in red, white, and blue. Jason Gilkison provides appropriately campy showgirl style choreography. The lighting by Bob Bonniol is colorful and professionally rendered.
A Night With Dame Edna supplies wildly funny comedy and cute songs and, even though Edna's brand of sometimes harsh material might not be everyone's cup of tea, most who attend will laugh more heartily than perhaps ever before in their lives. The show continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, through March 14, 2004. To order tickets, please call (800) 294-1816.-- Scott Cain