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March 25, 2010

Review: All About Me

by Jesse North
Not every good idea has to make sense, initially. When I first heard that Dame Edna Everage and Michael Feinstein would be co-headlining a Broadway show, I thought, Who wants to see that? Dame Edna has already had two Broadway shows—isn’t her shtick old? And Michael Feinstein is stuck in the 1930s with his cabaret act—how is he relevant to today’s paying audience?
Well last night, all these performers had to do to convince me was open their mouths.
Played by the Australian comedian Barry Humphries, Dame Edna’s comedy is sharper than ever. Her improvised routine of honing in on grinning audience members and humiliating them never gets boring. What’s so effective about her delivery is that Edna never appears to be insulting intentionally—every caustic quip is delivered in a tone that would sound the same if she were saying she loved you. Edna is miraculous, because she is a short-sighted, self-absorbed, politically incorrect  snob—yet you can’t help but love her! She commands the stage of the Henry Miller’s Theatre (soon to be the Stephen Sondheim Theatre) using her usual staples of gladiolas, muscular male dancers, and boas. Edna also looks blindingly glittery in her wild costumes, designed by Stephen Adnitt. One particular bedazzled frock displayed a massive collar that was the Sydney Opera House, with Edna’s head poking out through the middle of the famed building. It was a design fit for Lady Gaga, which isn’t too shabby for the 76-year-old dame.
It would be too easy to fall to the wayside, when positioned next to all of Edna’s glittery costumes and on-stage boisterousness. Feinstein, the noted pianist and owner of Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, is placed in an awkward position. In addition to appearing quite wee next to the giant Edna, a cabaret singer of American songbook classics seems like a pretty uneven deck of cards against riotous comedy. Lucky for Feinstein, he’s armed with a voice that is wildly powerful and emotionally evocative. He performs his solo numbers with such strength that I was taken aback. In addition to the wonderful quality of his voice, there is a real pleasure in watching a person talk about something they are so passionate about. Before performing tunes penned by Gershwin, Porter, or the team of Rodgers and Hart, Feinstein introduces each with the song’s background. He speaks so lovingly of the work—his passion isn’t only detected in his voice, but in his face as well. When someone truly cares about what they’re doing, no matter what it is, it’s difficult as an audience member not to feel magnetism toward it.
Unfortunately, Edna and Feinstein have been staged in a fumbling conceit where they are both unconvincingly surprised to discover the other’s spotlight-stealing presence in “his”/“her” show, and they waste precious time vying for it. There’s an unnecessary stage manager character (Jodi Capeless) and the bantering and soft-balled insults are near embarrassing. If I had to see one more dramatic headshake from Feinstein to display the emotion of befuddlement to the audience, I would have checked to see that I hadn’t walked into my old high school for a production.
Even though the two entertainers learn to share the stage by the play’s end, Edna and Feinstein are both better when enjoyed separately. Now, I know I previously stated that this dual-show concept was a good idea. It is, only for the fact that we get to witness these two massive talents in one sitting. When they blend together, it isn’t so much a meeting of the minds, as it is an insult to theirs.
Editor’s note: I was invited to see All About Me, and did not rush it. There is a student rush policy in effect for two tickets per ID at $26.50 a piece, on sale when the box office opens.
Play: B-
Photo: Joan Marcus

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