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What’s It All About?

Michael Feinstein didn’t stand a chance against Dame Edna. Stephen Sondheim doesn’t do so well, either.

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It may have seemed a stroke of inspiration to put Dame Edna Everage—the lilac-wigged, rhinestone-spectacled alter ego of Australian writer and raconteur Barry Humphries—and the slick show-tune crooner Michael Feinstein on the same stage for a faux battle of the egos. The novelty of All About Me's conceit is carried right past the fourth wall: Each star has his or her own separate Playbill, with no mention of the other.

But faux or no, there's simply no contest between these two. Dame Edna, with her trilling, lacerating pronouncements on everything from Madonna's baby-adopting habits to the tunelessness of Stephen Sondheim’s songs, is the show's dazzling, spangled giantess. Feinstein, with his heartfelt readings of songs like Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance," is its earnest foil, and the show droops a little, like a sad gladiolus, whenever he takes center stage.

That's not to say Feinstein isn't a good sport, and if you dare to tiptoe within spitting range of Dame Edna, you'd better be. The Dame's customary routine includes selecting random audience members and, under the pretense of making amiable chitchat, subjecting them to fearsome, merciless roasting. She inquires, politely, about one theatergoer's outfit, suggesting that it's the sort of thing best saved for a special occasion—"like cleaning out the garage, or helping the family pet give birth." Feinstein is much nicer: His most daring moment is a sharkskin-suave version of "A Lot of Livin' to Do" from Bye Bye Birdie, a number that's perfectly suited to his Bobby Darin–style swagger.

But the stage just isn't big enough for Michael Feinstein, Dame Edna, and her rotating selection of oversize sparkly dresses. And if one of those three had to go, you can bet it wouldn't be the dresses. (Often rendered in hothouse-flower hues and generally featuring any combination of fringe, ruffles, and sequins, they're like dowager versions of Quinceañera gowns.)

The Feinstein-Everage patter was written by Humphries, Feinstein, and Christopher Durang, the demonic cherub of American theater, though it’s never as wicked as one would hope—aside, perhaps, from the Dame’s apparent Sondheim vendetta. When Everage gears up to sing, in her warbly, conversational way, "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company—a song that actually does have a melody, she notes—she wonders aloud whether Sondheim even wrote it. Beware the woman wearing a stiletto sharp enough to puncture that legend. It and she are larger than life.


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