Life’s grand for Dame impersonator

Jan 19, 2011

Life’s grand for Dame impersonator

-Jim Sullivan, Boston Herald

Dame Edna Everage — the Australian superstar/housewife with purple hair and a caustic wit — will unleash a string of loving, but scathing, put-downs at the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Saturday and Sunday.

But this Dame Edna is not the same Dame Edna that Boston audiences have grown to love. That Dame Edna was a character played by her creator, 76-year-old Australian comic Barry Humphries, who’s been doing Edna for more than half a century.

This Dame Edna is played by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Michael L. Walters. He’s a self-admitted — and Humphries-approved — fake.

“I would never pass myself off as Barry,” Walters said, on the phone from Sarasota, Fla., where he was performing last week. “It’s a tribute show. It has Barry’s blessing. He’s very flattered.

“This show,” Walters continued, “depends on the audience and their willingness to play along and delve into the fantasy world. They have to get past the notion that this is an impersonator of an impersonator and invest themselves in the notion that this is Dame Edna, here to have an audience with them.”

Walters began doing an Edna-esque character in dinner theater in the ’90s. He met Humphries 11 years ago in Tampa on Humphries’ first American tour and started working on his Edna act in 2001. He says it really began to take off four years ago.

The show is both scripted and unscripted. There’s video. There’s music. Walters, 39, sings both in Edna’s high, screechy voice and in his own classically trained voice. The plot, such as it is, hinges on the notion that Edna wants to buy the Regent Theatre.

“She wants a winter home where she can watch the elderly preserve themselves in the fridge rather than the oven,” Walters explained.

As with Humphries’ act, much of the show is interactive. Humphries’ Edna has called it “a conversation between two people, where one of them is a lot more interesting than the other.”

“There’s this almost gleeful sadomasochism,” Walters said, “where the audience says, ‘Oh God, I hope she doesn’t pick on me.’ And when she doesn’t, they’re a little disappointed. I have to get to know the people within my sight lines and read faces, see who is receptive to be spoken to. In this show, I’m trying to be open and inviting, but at the same time, sometimes I’ll give people the opportunity to be funny and then turn right around and slam-dunk them.”

Who is Dame Edna to Walters?

“This is someone who is consumed by her own celebrity,” he said. “This is a woman who, through her own megalomania, is blind to her own flaws. Therefore, the only people she can see fault in are the people before her. And she says the most godawful things.”

“A Royal Audience with Michael L. Walters as Dame Edna” at the Regent Theatre, Arlington, Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: $20-$25; 781-646-4849.
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