Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Dame Edna is back with a Vengeance

Also see Richard's review of The Secret in the Wings

Best of Broadway presents the incomparable international housewife, megastar and guru Dame Edna, who storms into town with her newly minted and extravagant Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance! This is a pre-Broadway run which heads for the Music Box Theatre in late fall. Let's face it, there are some who who are impervious to Dame Edna's humor, but most audiences love her "events," as she calls them. Dame Edna is still outrageous in her put downs of the audience members, the present government in Washington, certain groups in our fair city, local celebrities and her "family." And she still wears those outlandish gowns covered in rhinestones that "Kenny" has designed for her.

Back with a Vengeance is more glitzy than the Royal Tour show. This is more like a Las Vegas act, with her two beautiful "Ednaettes" and two "TestEdnarones" doing take-offs on Bob Fosse choreography at the beginning and ending of the show, with the Dame herself cutting a mean rug. Even the setting looks like something designed for a Vegas strip hotel: red velvety Viennese curtains completely covering the back of the stage, with two crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Her entrance smacks of a "Liberace" influence. Rather than walk on stage to thunderous applause, she descends from the rafters sitting on a huge pair of red designer glasses with rhinestones around the edge. She descends from on high to chat with us poor mortals.

Dame Edna tells the audiences at the beginning that this show is "exactly the same as the last show, only new," and this is true since many of the stories are similar to those she told in her original Royal Tour. There are tales that go on much too long - about the prostate problems of her late husband, for example ("I purchased for my late husband a silver-handled catheter for his prostate problems"). There is a long story about a visit to her daughter, who lives on the fringes of Fresno in a trailer park with her partner, a guard at Wal-Mart who loves to cook exotic dishes like crusted loin of hare pie. She does not forget son Kenny, who lives somewhere in San Francisco and is a "practicing homeopath."

Dame Edna takes aim at the Bush administration, but she does not belabor the subject ("Miss Bush called and said her husband was looking at a map of the world and he was wondering where overseas was. She said to look under abroad"). The second balcony (those poor souls whom she calls "homeless") got their required ribbing. Even the empty seats in the house got mentioned ("Oh, those are subscribers' seats and those people have died before the show opened").

Dame Edna is a drag queen Don Rickles since she finds subjects in the front rows and "overpowers" them. She criticizes their apparel, their bathrooms, where they live and their occupations. It is wonderful superciliousness in the guise of "caring and sharing."

In the first act, an audience participation scene needs work. Dame Enda informs the audience that Hollywood wants to make a film of her life so she is scouting for talent. A flat comes from the rafters showing a '50s kitchen in Australia, and she picks both males and females to play her husband and children. Dame Edna herself plays who else but Dame Edna. It's a silly and somewhat laborious scene that needs a lot of pruning.

In the second act she again brings up a couple who "might be having marital problems." She will play marriage counselor. On opening night she picked the wrong couple, since the wife was about to deliver a child on stage; they were happily married and thought nothing was wrong with each other. The whole act went downhill since Dame Edna tried to call the husband's mother in Norway and no one answered. Even the grande dame admitted defeat.

Another familiar Dame Edna scene takes place toward the end of the event. In the Royal Tour of 2000, she invited guests to partake of a meal from a nearby restaurant while she talked about disgusting bodily functions and certain diseases. The artist does the same shtick here, but this time it is a barbecue and a man from the audience cooks sausages while women from the audience make salads and condiments. She even repeats the same kind of gross speech for these poor souls. When the megastar leaves the stage to let these embarrassed folks talk among themselves while she changes into another gown for the final singing number, it is very uncomfortable for both the audience and guests. It seems like ages before she comes back on stage to release her hostages. This is a very dull scene and a poor ending to the show.

Back with a Vengeance is just too long. It needs serious cutting, especially in the long, drawn out monologues by Dame Edna herself. The show depends on those persons who are called from the audience. If they are not interesting or don't go along with the joke, it becomes very tedious.

Dame Edna Back with a Vengeance plays at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco through October 10th. The show moves to New York in October. For tickets call 415-512-7770 or visit

Photo: Greg Groman

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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