Capping a spectacular career spanning nearly 60 years of bravura showmanship, legendary 81-year-old Australian comedian, actor, satirist, artist and author Barry Humphries performed as his charismatic, flamboyant alter ego Dame Edna Everage in the debut of Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour at National Theatre Tuesday night, which is scheduled to run through April 26th.
Set on a simple stage, accentuated with a backdrop of her signature stylishly bedazzled, cat-eyed glasses, the show opened with a nostalgically humorous film tracing the lady’s career from her early days in Australia to becoming the “approaching 60 — but from the wrong direction” one-of-a-kind housewife and internationally celebrated megastar. Celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Kelly Osbourne and Geoffrey Rush make cameos in the introductory video – all shedding light on Edna’s monstrous megalomania and wondrous inappropriateness, prepping the audience for her grand entrance and outrageous antics to follow.
Primed by Musical Director and Onstage Accompanist Jonathan Tessero, Dame Edna sparkled in an extravagantly embellished, electric pink dress, sashaying alongside a sensational ensemble of talented singer-dancers (Ralph Coppola, Brooke Pascoe, Eve Prideaux, and Armando Yearwood, Jr.), lovingly launching into one-on-one assaults of unsuspecting audience members in the first few rows, intermittently seguing into jubilant musical numbers and uniquely vibrant monologues only she could deftly deliver.
Directed by award-winning Simon Phillips who directed the original Priscilla Queen of the Desert and First Wives Club with design by Tony Award-winning Brian Thomson who designed the original Australian and London productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show, the 135-minute production flashed fast, fueled with razor-sharp wit and astutely amusing ad libs. Whenever Edna meets and greets her unbeknownst prey, she does not ‘pick on them’ so much as ’empower’ them, stirring an entertaining gabfest with a myriad of sarcastic jokes and hilarious jibes.
Throughout most of the show, Edna picks people from the audience with whom to converse – and tenderly tease. Edna begins by sizing up willing victims/audience members and commenting on their homes, their hairdos or their wardrobes. “You dressed for a special occasion,” she croons at an unwary target, “like helping a family pet give birth.” She mocks the audience in the balcony seats relentlessly, calling them “paupers”, “Les Miserables” or “misies,” suggesting that they are more than slightly familiar with shopping at Walmart and only promising to glance at them from time to time “in strict proportion to what they’ve paid.”
In the second act, she brings two very unlikely and credulous individuals up onstage ultimately performing an impromptu wedding with them, photographs and all. Edna even went as far as calling the newly anointed husband’s father to announce that his gay son had married a new older woman. Along with the spontaneous nuptials, there was also a marvelous monologue about visiting an ashram for six months with Edna claiming to be on a spiritual journey, divesting herself of material possessions. To demonstrate, she gives away one of her elaborate diamond bracelets to an audience member in the front row but later riotously coaxes the recipient to give it back.
True to form, Edna concluded her extraordinary performance with the Gladdie song, fashioning a fun floral finale by tossing gladioli as far as she could into the audience. “Up, up, stand and tremble,” she roused and each selectee cheerily and demonstratively did as she directed. Upon the song’s end, Edna recedes from the stage to make way for film montage of Humphries’s characters, about a dozen in all, each of whom takes a cinematic bow. Then, in formal tux attire crowned with a fedora hat, Humphries appeared in his own persona and graciously bid the audience a heartfelt adieu — until the next time Edna’s farewell tour rolls around. Perhaps, this is simply the first of many farewell appearances. One can only hope.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.
Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour plays through April 26, 2015 at National Theatre – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, visit the National Theatre Box Office, call (800) 514-3849, or purchase them online.