Duet for One: Barry Humphries and Dame Edna Chat With Playbill

By Blake Ross
March 30, 2010

Before the final curtain of Broadway's All About Me on April 4, Dame Edna talks with Playbill — and "manager" Barry Humphries — about life in art.

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Dame Edna Everage is not your average Broadway star. She won her first Tony in 2000 for her Broadway debut in The Royal Tour and got a nomination for her second Broadway show, 2005's Back with a Vengeance. At her side, throughout her 50-plus years in showbiz, has been her cross-dressing "manager," Barry Humphries, who (literally) made Edna everything she is today. Playbill got a chance to talk to both Edna and Barry about the return of the "gigastar" to Broadway in All About Me, which co-stars Michael Feinstein.

Playbill: How do you feel about coming back to Broadway?

Dame Edna: It's like a homecoming to me. I feel that Broadway is my spiritual home. When I was a little girl in Australia, a spooky old psychic told me that one day I would live on a wide street. I never knew what that was until I thought: Broadway…Wide Street!

PB: There was initially some nasty mudslinging between you and co-star Michael Feinstein when your show was first announced and it turned out you both had a similar sounding title. You even said, 'Someone purchased a CD of Mr. Feinstein's at a flea market in Australia and re-gifted it to me recently. I'm impressed at how often he sings on key.' Those are some harsh words! How did you both decide to lay down the gauntlet and team up for All About Me?

DE: Well, I've known Michael for a long, long time and I've always hoped that he'd make it. I prayed for him to succeed. Little did I know that he had gotten together a show with the same title as mine. I think one of my people must have leaked it to him. Treachery is not unknown in this business. When I found out that he was clashing so radically with me, I was not a happy woman. I speak my mind and I had to let him know that. I don't like having arguments with people, though. I'm a very peaceful gigastar unless I'm crossed.

PB: But now you two are on good terms?

DE: He's a darling and he's a wonderful actor and he says that working with me is the chance of a lifetime for him.

PB: Tell me about All About Me.

DE: It really is [about] the best things that I do, the best things that he does, and the best things that we do together. I've always been on stage alone until now. I've never shared the stage with anyone. I couldn't wish to share it with anyone nicer than Michael. But I also share the theatre with my audience, and they get a say, they become the stars. I turn the audience into a star-studded cast.

PB: In 2000, you won a Tony Award for your Broadway debut.

DE: Yes, and I was nominated for a Tony last time, too [in 2005]. I'm a Tony-attracting star.

PB: Do you think you might have a go at it again this June?

DE: Well, they apologized last time for not giving it to me. They felt they had to give a Tony to Billy Crystal [for 700 Sundays]. There would have been a bit of a tantrum. They didn't want drama. If you've got the film of the Tony Awards, when Billy Crystal won, watch their lips when they give him the Tony, slow it down, freeze the frame. Their lips are saying, "But we'd rather give it to Edna," you watch. But of course, awards don't mean anything to me. The reaction of the public is my Tony.

PB: The last time that American audiences saw you was for your tour called My First Last Tour. Are you hinting at a retirement? Do you think that All About Me might be your swan song?

DE: The fact is that this will not be my last appearance because I still have a lot of energy. My drive and juices are very intact. I consult two people before I go on tour or do a new show: my gynecologist and my psychic advisor. Both of them said, "Go for it, Edna, go for it!"

Playbill: Barry, you've been Dame Edna's "manager" for a long time. It must be a full circle moment to bring her back to Broadway.

Barry Humphries: From my point of view, it's lovely to be on Broadway because I've been connected with this show for a long time. I've been her manager since she was a young woman. I do my own show, too, in Australia and in England, and Edna has been my guest on many occasions. To be back on Broadway is marvelous because it is the center of world theatre. To have a success on Broadway is to have a major world triumph.

PB: How did you feel about the tiff between Michael and Edna when the shows were first individually announced?

BH: It was very, very embarrassing. Edna really lost it and it was upsetting because Michael Feinstein is quite a sensitive man and Edna was treating him as though he was just some ordinary old piano player. There is another side to this woman that her public does not know about.

PB:How do you deal with it when she gets into these tiffs with other celebrities?

BH: I have to always clean up after Edna. It's a very unenviable task. I have to patch things up, but I have succeeded in at least getting them onto the stage together in this show. And I think the audiences will be grateful for that.

PB: What do you see next for her?

BH: It may well be that she's going into politics. She's very interested in American politics. We've got some very interesting women in American politics at the moment — there's Sarah Palin, there's Hillary Clinton, and in the background, there's Nancy Pelosi. Edna feels that she's all three of them rolled into one.

PB: Do you think, come the next election, she might try and run for a big office, maybe give Obama a run for his money?

BH: I'm giving you an absolute exclusive: Edna intends to run for office in the United States of America. It will be the first time you've ever had, well, an Australian president.

PB: I don't know if that's legal, but I'm sure that you two will find a way to do it.

BH: There is a way. I'm talking to lawyers, international lawyers as it is.

PB: [Laughs]. So what is next for you, Barry, apart from your work with Edna?

BH: I've written a new book about my life with Edna. It's called "Handling Edna" and it will be published in America later this year. Meanwhile, I'm spending most of the time writing and also painting because I'm quite a successful artist. If I devoted my whole time to Dame Edna, I'd go crazy.