|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Fifteen minutes into All About Me, which bowed March 18 at Henry Miller's Theatre, Dame Edna Everage made her entrance, arms outstretched to her adoring "possums," responding to some kind of theatrical call of the wild which is actually Michael Feinstein's full-lunged finish to "The Lady Is a Tramp."
He wonders what she is doing there. She wonders what he is still doing there, after that nice little warm-up. The subsequent 75 minutes or so is a mud-wrestle over the title role, both with their own ideas about who the stage is for.
They go round and round like "Rose's Turn" — For me! For me! For me! For me!" — until Dame Edna summons her security squad, a pair of bruisers named Bruno (Gregory Butler) and Benito (Jon-Paul Mateo), to have the baggage removed and dumped in a closet backstage.
When Feinstein attempts to retake center stage, a bossy stage manager (Jodi Capeless) is brought in to make peace in the valley. She divides the stage with yellow tape (the type usually found at crime scenes, appropriately enough) so each has a sandbox to play in; then she makes a list of subjects they can agree on and, hopefully, harmonize on. The category labeled Dramatic Song had Feinstein socking over a couple of Burton Lane-Alan Jay Lerner songs from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Dame Edna, reneging on her promise of a "Sondheim-free zone," wobbling valiantly if wearily through a three-martini "The Ladies Who Lunch."
Brasserie 8½, a swank, cavernous basement space on West 57th, made its Broadway debut as an opening-night party site, providing ample room to cruise and cavort and serving up fine vittles as well. Interviews were conducted in adjacent anterooms.
[flipbook] The mauve-haired dame from Down Under was nowhere to be seen at the party, so her author and alter ego, Barry Humphries, did the talking for her.
No, he had no idea that Elaine Stritch was in the audience to see her signature song, "The Ladies Who Lunch," run through Dame Edna's mix-master — only four days after the Philharmonic's Sondheim salute where Patti LuPone did a dynamic rendering of the song that had even Stritchie standing and cheering. Dame Edna was something else. "I've never seen 'The Ladies Who Lunch' done, except once in the early '70s by Elaine in London, and it was the definitive performance, of course," Humphries admitted, "but I thought it would be a good one for Edna to try her acting skills. She brought some other element to it."
A non-solo show is, he admitted, a rude jolt to Dame Edna's system. "It's something I've never done. I'm always there as a solo performer. I mean, I've acted in plays and things because that's what I am — just a character actor. But sharing the stage with Michael was sort of a challenge. A lot of my friends said, 'Well, you're both good independently, but together isn't it a bit of a mismatch?' I began to feel perhaps it was — until we got working together — and then I found it was a delight."
The proof was in the playing, and quite a bit of pruning was done to get to opening night. "We had a nice long preview period, and so we just experimented like mad, aided and abetted by our wonderful director, Casey Nicholaw. He kept us disciplined, slowly trying to shape a show which had no shape. It's kind of a variety show, a vaudeville, but it takes a conflict between two performers to make it into something. If it moves at a sufficient pace, I think it provides entertainment for the audience, which at present is rather unique. There's not that kind of show around."
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