Thursday, March 19, 2015

Clean Yourself Up, Or Get Ribbed: Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Every time I go to the theater, I'm a little amazed by what people choose to wear. Theater tickets are, in general, not cheap, and it seems like paying that kind of money to go out would mean it's a special occasion. And aren't special occasions those times when one dresses up? But perhaps I have it all wrong. Maybe these folks had to sell their smartest outfits in order to pay for their theater tickets. It's a tragic tale straight out of O'Henry!

I bring this up because the attire of the audience is something Dame Edna will not let pass unnoticed, so if you decide to see the show, and have tickets in the first few rows, either clean yourself up, or be prepared for some vicious ribbing. (Dame Edna will insist she's only trying to be helpful.)

I will admit that while I have always been aware of Dame Edna, I have never before taken in an entire show, and am most aware of the character through various appearances on PBS and BBC America. I had no idea she's been around since the 1950s! That puts Edna, and her creator, Barry Humphries, in their 80's (or, as Dame Edna says, "approaching 60, but from the wrong direction"). That's a pretty astonishing run for character that came to life in a small Melbourne theater.

I imagine much of the show and shtick will be familiar to Edna's biggest fans, or "possums," but the video that opens the show, played within the stage's giant bedazzled spectacles, serves as a good introduction to those less familiar. Presented as a tongue-in-cheek version of an "E! True Hollywood Story," it includes vintage footage of Dame Edna, some testimony from celebs, (Hugh Jackman speaks of her years as an acting coach, and the traumatizing "private time" he had to endure after class), and other scandalous history.

Aside from videos, which begin and end the show, it's pretty much all Edna, with the occasional back-up dancers for the musical numbers, and a pianist who remains on stage the entire time. Her interactions with the audience are the primary focus, and while all of this seems quite spontaneous and improvised, have no doubt, it's well rehearsed.

She even manages to work the Bay Area into the show, with tales of her "disappointing daughter," her daughter's "partner," and their house full of pit bulls in Visitacion Valley, discussion of which causes Dame Edna to--in a rather alarming moment--have a very physical reaction. This bit is also the evening's only sour note, as it's a bit of a rant that has no satisfying conclusion.

At the show's end, after the audience has waved a virtual garden of Edna's gladiolas (organically raised in her own garden, using her own manure, of course), there's a surprise appearance by the man behind the woman, Barry Humphries himself. He gives a heartfelt thank you to the fans, and to San Francisco, assuring us all that this is, indeed, the end.

Followed by a plea that we all promise to come back for the next farewell.

Friday, March 13, 2015


This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

If you're looking for a modernization or feminist updating of Cinderella, ala last year's Maleficent, look elsewhere. This is certainly not that. Instead, it's a pretty faithful remake of the 1950 animated Disney classic, though expanded a bit story wise since the original was barely over an hour long.

These expansions are, for the most part, welcome additions since it means the Prince (Richard Madden) gets to fall head over heels in love with Cinderella (Lily James) after two meetings and some conversations, instead of after one measly song and dance.

Also expanded on is the role of the Evil Stepmother, as well it should be, since she's played by the fantastic Cate Blanchett, and she deserves all the screen time she can get. There's a little bit of pathos given to the character, as her jealousy over Cinderella is given some explanation, and she's fully aware she's been saddled with two idiots for daughters. But for the most part, she's a seriously mean and nasty mother, albeit a fabulously dressed one. (Although, why she's dressed like a 1930's screen siren, while everyone else if prancing around in some approximation of 19th century garb is a little inexplicable. Fabulous, but inexplicable.)

Cinderella's sisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera), are Technicolor nightmares, better looking than their animated counterparts, but no more talented or charming. And Cindy's Fairy Godmother is not the elderly bippity boppity boo of the movie, at least, not for long, as she's played by Helena Bonham Carter, in full Glinda-esque mode. But, because this is Helena Bonham Carter, and she can't play anything perfectly straight these days, she caps off the glittery look with a huge set of glistening, white, fake teeth.

I'm not a mother to a young girl, so I can't really share in the agony some parents have with the princess-ization of so much of the pop culture aimed at girls. But I was a young girl once, and I loved my princess-based fairy tales, and frilly dresses, and happily ever afters, and came out of it relatively unscathed.

In fact, I think girls these days might have it even better in the princess department, since they have some excellent alternative princesses to choose from, (see: Frozen; Brave; Mulan; The Frog Prince; the aforementioned Maleficent and its version of Princess Aurora, et al), while children of my generation had standard waiting-for-their-prince-in-shiny-armor princesses, and not much else to choose from.

This Cinderella isn't breaking any new ground, but if you aren't opposed to classic tales beautifully filmed, well acted, and well told, then you can't get much better than this.

Even if it doesn't have any singing mice.