Hats off – from berets to toques, from homburgs to pillboxes – to Dame Edna: The Royal Tour. Other performers have invented running stage personas for themselves like Australia’s Barry Humphries and his Dame Edna Everage, but have they been this amusing? I am prepared to declare him the funniest man in today’s theater. Also the funniest woman.
Humphries has many strengths. He is a great improviser who plays with his audience as if it were a beach ball. Picking out a few patsies in the audience, he starts a dialogue with one or another, drops then returns to this one or that, summons some of them up onstage. But in sundry ways, the rest of us are also included. Much of it is insult comedy, but, as he/she keeps saying, meant in the nicest possible way. With Dame Edna, you simply kiss the knife she/he sticks into you.
Further, we have here a master/mistress of movement and facial expression whose silences are as funny as the words. Like all good comics, Edna has studied up on her venue, and the sly topical references to persons living or wishing they were dead are deadly accurate. Again, Edna is gloriously incorrect politically, and chooses targets with awesomely apposite impudence. Her timing, including throwaway lines, is a nonpareil, and her worst nonsense makes canny sense.
There is also the structure of the show. It starts out with funny shtick serving as building blocks, but the blocks become airborne balls miraculously multiplying. It turns more manic as it romps ahead, the leitmotifs juggled with not only dexterity but also mnemonic prowess, as Dame Edna remembers the names and histories of her audience victims and keeps weaving them into a tapestry as sumptuous as The Lady with the Unicorn, and much funnier. There is wit to spare, so I could give away free samples with impunity, except that there was not enough time between jokes to write anything down.
Edna also sings and dances, backed up by a pianist doubling as Polaroid photographer, and the Ednaettes, two attractive dancers. Let me add that the Dame herself has terrific legs – as, I’m sure, has her show.