On the one hand, it is undeniably sad to see Dame Edna Everage, the “gigastar” creation of Australian actor/comedian Barry Humphries, in her current farewell tour stop in Los Angeles (at the Ahmanson Theatre through March 15th). But on the other hand, the sassily superior doyenne’s Glorious Goodbye definitely feels it is coming at the right time. Humphries is now 80 years old and has been performing as Edna for nearly three quarters of his life. It seems unlikely that this farewell will be extended indefinitely à la Cher.
Longtime fans will no doubt eat this production up, chock full as it is of the off-color zingers, funny looks, insults of audience members and pop culture critiques for which its star has long been beloved. The grand dame’s insights were up to the minute on opening night, with the NFL’s Deflategate, Justin Bieber’s video apology and the Transitioning Bruce Jenner all coming under fire. Unfortunately, precious little else in the show is new to anyone who saw her Royal Tour a few years back. It even opens and closes with the same video montages of Edna’s life, although they remain as funny as before.
Edna/Humphries got off to a fine start in the performance I saw, with jazzy support provided by her/his four back up singer-dancers and too-cute accompanist Jonathan Tessero. However, the first act ended up going on about 15 minutes too long, perhaps as a result of Humphries’ enthusiasm for his obviously adoring audience. The second act which, we are amusingly informed, follows an intermediate six-month period of spiritual enlightenment on Edna’s part, is tighter and more consistently funny. It also features a favorite Edna gag of telephoning an unsuspecting audience member’s relative for all to hear.
There are a handful of songs by Humphries’ longtime collaborator Wayne Barker, with the closing "You Will Have to Do Without Me Somehow" proving unexpectedly moving. Even Humphries seemed to get genuinely choked up midway through it. Happily, he rebounded by the curtain call with Edna’s traditional practice of tossing her favorite gladiolas out to the audience. In a nice opening night gesture, ushers distributed gladiolas to everyone in the audience, even the “mizzies” in the upper balcony.
Humphries appeared sans makeup and took a bow following the closing video (which malfunctioned and didn’t play opening night but was e-mailed to the press shortly after the performance). He also spoke and thanked his LA and American audiences profusely for their support over the decades. It was a heartfelt and fitting local end to his glorious career as a truly internationally beloved character.
Reverend’s Rating: B
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.