St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message


The importance of being Edna

Published March 7, 2006


It's complicated, amusing and a little unsettling to interview Dame Edna Everage.

Before you even start, there are some ground rules. You're instructed to call a phone number and ask for Dame Edna or for Barry Humphries, the Australian comedian who has pretty much made portraying Edna his life's work. You can interview either, but not both, and you can't ask Humphries if Edna can come to the phone. Official reason: Humphries and Edna had some business relationship that went sour and they don't speak.

Choose Edna, and you can't talk to Humphries about his role as Bruce the Shark in Finding Nemo, his collaborations with filmmaker Bruce Beresford in early '70s comedies, or his other characters, better known in Australia, including boozing cultural attache Sir Les Patterson.

Still, you can't resist international giga-star (her words) Dame Edna and the many stories she can tell from her years on the stage, all that glorious blur of glamor, giggles and gladioli.

But when she comes to the phone, she seems more interested in talking about you. She knows your astrological sign, your birthday, even your height.

You express your astonished admiration.

"Unlike you,'' she sneers, "I do my research before I talk to someone.'' Then a smile creeps into her voice as she adds, "Dahling.''

You finally manage some questions about the dame and her new show, the followup to her 2000 Broadway smash that turned into a huge hit on the road (including sold-out stops in the Tampa Bay area). She doesn't go into too much detail. The mauve-wigged Dame Edna will be onstage in one of her trademark sequined gowns and bejeweled cat-eye spectacles.

Beyond that, the specifics of the show don't seem to matter much. She'll just be her sensational self.

"Oh, I will sing and I will dance and I will perform psychic readings. I will give expensive gifts to the audience. There will be at least one miracle at each performance.''

That means at least seven miracles when Dame Edna comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall starting Wednesday with her latest production, Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance. She will be accompanied by her loyal pianist, Wayne Barker, and the Ednaettes, the dancers who make the show even more of an extravaganza.

It's all about giving back some of the love the world gives her, to provide solace to the rabble who have the profound misfortune of not being Dame Edna.

"It's my usual life-enhancing performance,'' she says. "I want to give the wonderful people down there in Florida a little of the happiness that is missing in their lives.''

She'll sing, with a style that critics have semi-affectionately described as a squawk. She'll dance, in a way that, she says, drew unrestrained praise from Ann Miller. She'll dish out topical humor, local references, fashion tips and insults (in, as she puts it, "the most caring way") to many in the audience who, far from being offended, will feel flattered to be noticed by the grande dame.

At a recent Washington, D.C., show, the dame brought a semi-willing couple from the crowd onstage and performed some impromptu marriage counseling, even calling the husband's surprised mother in Philadelphia. Naturally, the audience got to listen in on their phone chat.

Certainly, you allow, Dame Edna is the most beloved celebrity in the world. But you must ask about her early days.

"You are talking to a Melbourne housewife,'' she says. "Not Melbourne, Florida, but Melbourne, Australia. I would never want anyone to think I am British.''

Melbourne was where fame inevitably found her.

"I started in a church play,'' she says. "I played Mary Magdalene, and I was an immediate sensation.''

The only problem she said, grew from the scene when she washed Jesus' feet with her hair.

"We didn't have frankincense and myrrh, my darling, so we used Nivea cream,'' says Dame Edna. "And oh, it took forever to get that cream out of my hair.''

In the audience for that performance, she said, was a promoter named Barry Humphries, who put her in one of his traveling shows.

"And I was a sensation,'' she says, "Everybody loved me.''

All of a sudden, Dame Edna says she has to go. But she will call you right back. She takes your phone number, repeats it to make sure she has it right, says again she'll call you right back.

Before she goes, she has reminded you once more how lucky we are to have her heading our way.

"I love my little possums in Florida,'' she says, knowing that we will be flattered to be compared to filthy, scavenging marsupials - as long as it is her comparison. "And they love me.''

She hangs up, and that's the last you hear from Dame Edna.

[Last modified March 7, 2006, 09:03:21]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters