Dame Edna tribute at Arlington’s Regent Theatre

Jan 18, 2011

Dame Edna tribute at Arlington’s Regent Theatre

-Margaret Smith, Arlington Advocate

Arlington, Mass. —

The clothes, the hair, the attitude – Dame Edna Everage is easy to recognize and hard to resist, with her delusions of grandeur, outlandish wit and inimitable sense of style.

For more than a decade, American actor Michael L. Walters has performed a tribute to the character, a creation of Australian actor and comic Barry Humphries.

Walters brings “A Royal Audience with Michael Walters As Dame Edna” to the Regent Theatre in Arlington for two shows this weekend.

He recently reflected on where portraying Dame Edna has brought him.

Q Please tell me what you have planned for this show.

A It’s a one-person standup comedy and musical, and very heavy on audience interaction. She does bring people onto the stage, and interviews them. In my experience, the show is only as good as the audience.

Q I imagine that when you involve the audience, there is some risk, because you can’t be sure what someone from the audience is going to do or say.

A It’s an enormous risk, but that is part of the fun.

The character, if you will, is a wonderful combination of [comedian] Don Rickles and [former British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher. She is a very old lady, in her 70s.  She thinks she is the most famous individual on Earth, and she’s really not. But she will make you believe that she is by the end of the evening.

Q How did you get involved in doing a Dame Edna tribute?

A It certainly wasn’t something I set out to do. I was working for Disney in Orlando, and when you work for Disney, you don’t just work for Disney. You work for every other entertainment industry in town to make ends meet.

I was working for a dinner theater that heavily used guys in drag. I was asked to do it, and I said, what the heck, I’ve done “La Cage Aux Folles.” They had written a part for a British comic that was very difficult, and said, “Would you like to give it a stab?” I said, “Certainly.”

When I tried to do Dame Edna, my first attempts were abysmal. But, it has been a pretty steady routine for about 11 years.

Q What do you do to get inside this character?

A To become Edna, it’s a really tricky process. Psychologists might find it fascinating. She’s very combative. I like to be warmed up, and ready for a fight. She doesn’t come out looking as if she’s spoiling for a fight, but you make sure you are as armed as humanly possible.

The voice is always a very interesting challenge for me. We were just in a show in Sarasota [Florida]. We are in that horrible time in Florida, when it’s hot one day and cold the next, and mold really grows. I woke up having really horrible vocal trouble in the show, but we adapted.

There is a wonderful panacea when you get on the stage. Things you don’t think will happen will pop out.

One thing I admire about Barry is there is not one iota of fear or intimidation…doing this has made me stretch amazingly as an improv performer. I can ad lib on any length about things for any length of time.

Q Have you talked with [Dame Edna creator] Barry Humphries? Has he said what he thinks of your act?

A I received his blessing to play the character since about 2001, when he was doing his first national tour as Edna. I brought photos, and went backstage to see him in Tampa, and said, “I can’t tell you how much I admire you.” He wished me the best of luck. He’s been very supportive and very kind to me.

Q A lot of entertainers say technology does make for challenges, especially because people have other entertainment options.

A Let me put it to you this way. There is a difference between sitting at home with your iPad and sitting in a room full of people sharing a communal experience, whether it’s a concert or a live theatrical performance.

One thing Barry Humphries does beautifully is he takes them on a journey. Dame Edna says the most God-awful things to people, but in the nicest way. She takes the audience on a ride, and usually people will gasp and laugh at the same time.

If she says something distasteful, she has a philosophy – if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re missing the joke of the century.

If you go

‘A Royal Audience with Michael L. Walters as Dame Edna’

WHEN Saturday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 23, 2 p.m.

WHERE Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington

COST Tickets $20-$22; $15 group rate.

DINNER AND SHOW Jan. 22 show $50 dinner and show package with Tryst and Flora restaurants in Arlington.

FOR MORE INFORMATION Call 781-646-4849 or visit regenttheatre.com.

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at GateHouse Media New England’s Northwest Unit. E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).