All About Me, the two-person comic variety show that brings together standards-crooner Michael Feinstein and Barry Humphries’s drag act Dame Edna, is designed to mimic the chaos of backstage drama: two egos, one dead earnest and the other all spangles and raunchy falsetto, vying for star billing. When they sat down together after the third preview — having switched directors only three weeks prior and radically changing their show every night — it wasn’t easy to sort out the manufactured conflict from the genuine tension. But we decided to give it a try.
Dame Edna, you’ve gone through a costume change just for us!
Dame Edna: I did, learning how brief we would be. Hello, Michael! We are a little tired.
We’ll be gentle. How is the show coming together?
Michael Feinstein: We’re still experimenting. We tried several things tonight that we hadn’t done before.
DE: Michael’s work has deepened, I think. I’m being uncharacteristically self-deprecating, but I’m not an easy person, because I’m mostly surrounded by fools. I work alone mostly, so it’s a big accommodation to share my stage and my public with a comparative newcomer. After all, he’s only really been successful for 30 years.
While you, Edna, have been around since 1955.
DE: Well yes, but I don’t really take what I do seriously. I am that wonderful thing, an amateur. When I was very young, someone wrote in my autograph book, “You have that spark, that magnetic mark,” and it planted in my mind a desire to succeed in this peculiar business we call show.
MF: Now you’re sounding like Norman Vincent Peale. The power of positive thinking. So you manifested.
DE: You manifested, too! Michael has this gift, he can hear a tune and immediately play it. Not many people can. Of course I wouldn’t be so foolish as to compare Michael to Mozart, but I would place him well above Ned Rorem and Virgil Thomson.
Michael has spent his life uncovering rare recordings from the American Songbook. Is that where you found tonight’s showstopper, “A Dingo Ate My Baby”?
DE: It is an old Aboriginal song, which I freely translated. But it is fundamentally a vaudeville song. It reminded me that what we are doing is a sort of vaudeville show — and this is a vitamin, another V word. Vaudeville, this is a vitamin missing very much from the American diet, so we are making up for a deficiency.
I hear there’s some backstage conflict.
DE: Well, tabloids were pretty anxious to make us enemies. A lot of people thought, “How’s that going to work?!” But we get on as well as Alec Baldwin and his daughter.
MF: We had our frictions at the beginning, but we’ve come to respect each other in a way that’s transcended pettiness.
DE: You know there is a moment every night when Michael infuriates me. And now there are people called investors — and they’re very nice to invest in our show, and almost all their opinions are contrary to our view.
MF: But they’re passionate about the show and they think that they’re right — and maybe they are right.
DE: And they’re passionate, too, about their potential financial reward.
Michael, do you enjoy being the straight man in this show?
MF: Who would’ve thought! I have to say, I am so completely relieved of any desire to be humorous onstage because of the joy I get from Edna’s humor.
But Michael is the better singer, you’ll both admit.
DE: Much better. I have really a grating voice, but then I sing better than a lot of famous singers. For example, Madonna.
You still haven’t told me why you decided to do this together.
MF: I didn’t want to come back to Broadway unless I could do something out of the box. Even though most people said, “Are you out of your mind, to go on a stage with Dame Edna?”
DE: It’s so easy when you’re famous — and there’s even a movement in Texas to turn me into a religion, the Church of Edna. But when those things are happening to you — they never will, they’re happening to me — you need a reality check, someone to say, “Fine, fine, work harder.”
Do you think you’ll have figured this show out in time for the critics?
DE: I think they’re going to love it. If anything, they’re going to be too obsessive in their praise. I hope they qualify it just a little. They’re just audience members who’ve been given a little place in the newspapers. It’s their jobs and bless them — it’s not easy for them because many of them want to do what we do and failed tragically.