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Crass with class

One day, the queen of England went to pick up a new frock from her personal beader, Mrs. Adnitz, but it wasn’t finished yet. Aghast, the queen demanded, “Why isn’t my dress ready?” And Mrs. Adnitz replied, “I’m afraid I’m still working on Dame Edna’s beautiful frock for Detroit.”

So says the international phenomenon herself, Dame Edna Everage, star and laughter-propellant of Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, a Tony Award-winning Broadway show, at the Music Hall this week.

Although many Detroiters may have lived most of their lives unaware of this possum-loving, purple-haired walking Las Vegas, she’s practically family to Australians and Brits, having lovingly emblazoned their stages and television for more than 20 years. She’s a pink-sequined, outrageous, rhinestoned spectacle, fueled by irony and quick wit, who forces you to laugh at yourself or just get irritated. If you choose to laugh, be prepared for an incredible, entertaining and interactive experience when this absurd and delightful creature barrels onto the stage.

And just how does a Melbourne housewife and mother turn into a megastar? Speaking in her own eloquent Aussie falsetto, she divulges her beginnings back in the day:

Dame Edna: Some of my girlfriends sent a photograph of me in a swimsuit to the local newspaper that was running a Lovely Mother competition, and I won it! I won it for Australia. The prize was a trip to England, and a restricted-view seat in a theater in London of My Fair Lady. When I saw the young Julie Andrews being transformed from a little cockney flower-seller into a duchess, I felt a stirring within me, Anita. I felt that such a trans-social and cultural transition was possible for me … I went back to my home, and I was restless. I’d tasted forbidden fruit.

Back in the ’50s, the seeds were sown and a star was born. Fifteen years later, Edna was already the toast of London. Coincidentally, another Australian career was launched back in the ’50’s. Rumors abound that a Mr. Barry Humphries, celebrated character actor and landscape painter, created the character of a Melbourne housewife in 1956, also named Everage. Both Dame Edna’s and Humphries’ careers have suspiciously intertwined over the years.

Edna: I got a call from this Barry Humphries, who was a young, would-be theater producer and comedian. And he wanted my advice because he wanted to do a character in the theater … a sort of housewife. He wanted to ridicule, really, the traditions we hold sacred of motherhood and housekeeping, and I went along as a consultant. He asked me if I would do a little monologue on stage in one little show he was doing, which I did, and of course I stole the show. He’s never forgiven me. He had a contract drawn up which I foolishly signed. It’s proved to be legally binding to this day, so I am trussed to this person.

Whether or not Dame Edna is psychologically capable of admitting it, Humphries is “the man behind the frock,” winning a plethora of honors for his transvested character. And although gorgeousness may have kick-started her career, it’s not just good looks that have transformed her into the “thinking woman’s Doris Day” she is today.

Edna: I bring out a sense of humor in people who think they didn’t have it. I’m a catalyst!

She’s a catalyst with an ego the size of Godzilla. No one can contest Dame Edna’s success in Australia, London’s West End and on Broadway, but her claim to be the reincarnation of Emily Dickinson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Gertrude Stein may put off some. And if that doesn’t raise an eyebrow, maybe the cacophony of color this one-woman circus dons will. I asked her how she developed such a brilliant, unique and disturbing fashion sense:

Edna: Well … disturbing … I suppose disturbing because it’s mold-breaking. I’m always dressed to please myself.

This Dame is so fashion-conscious, she had an outfit specially made for her visit to Detroit.

Edna: You can tell your readers that I don’t just visit a town, I inhabit a town … I will be talking to people and incorporating Motown elements in my show. I do my homework.

Watch out! The more she knows, the more power she wields, as she balances her dangerous sense of humor on a tightrope that can go anywhere from complimentary to “maybe I should have sat in the back row.”

Dame Edna is a cross-dressing, comic force to be reckoned with, and she seems genuinely excited about her visit to Detroit.

Edna: I want to discover … I think I’m going to adore it so oddly enough.

Though The Royal Tour promises to be an extravaganza not to be missed, if you’re not a fan of irony and drag queens, Dame Edna’s true royal beauty may pass you by.

Edna: I’m at the height of my powers. And if you don’t believe me, I’ll send you a printout from my gynecologist.

Anita Schmaltz writes about theater and performance for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com

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