Beaux Coups

Dame Edna and Ken Page -- at the same time

Nov 13, 2002 at 4:00 am
Would you believe it? This season's two theater coups are both occurring this week. Broadway veteran Ken Page has returned home to St. Louis to direct Godspell, the musical based on the gospel according to St. Matthew, at Fontbonne University. Concurrently, in her typically grandiose style, Dame Edna (a.k.a. Barry Humphries) is making her debut St. Louis appearance by holding court at the Fox Theatre. We caught up with both coup-makers.

First, Ken Page, before a rehearsal:

RFT: As a kid growing up in St. Louis, what are your most vivid theater memories?

Page: First would be Oklahoma! at the Muny. It was the first professional show I ever saw, back in the '60s, when I was a kid. In the opening scene, Robert Horton rode in on a horse. I sat there rapt, thinking how amazing it was that you could create reality in the theater. That's the night I fell in love with musicals. Then, seeing Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway at the Muny in Hello, Dolly! It was the first time I saw performers onstage.

Why Godspell?

I've always loved the show, ever since I first saw it on tour at the American Theatre in the 1970s. Godspell celebrates the goodness in humanity. When it was first written and staged during the Vietnam era, we needed to hear that message. Oddly enough, all these decades later we're back to a time when we need to hear it again.

What one site should Dame Edna visit in St. Louis?

I've seen Dame Edna many times. She is absolutely brilliant and hysterically funny. I think she should visit the Gateway Arch, because it's the only local monument befitting someone of her stature.

We spoke to Dame Edna while she was on tour in Vancouver:

RFT: You're an adviser to British royalty. Who's your favorite royal?

Edna: Princess Anne. She's natural and she's gorgeous -- but I should say Prince Charles, because I introduced Charles to Camilla. She came to me when she needed a bit of a makeover, and I was a bit of a Cupid. Actually I'm a cross between Cupid and Heidi Fleiss.

You received a Tony Award for Best Live Theatrical Event. I know you're alive, and you're certainly theatrical. But do you deem yourself an event?

I think I am. People say that after seeing my show, the rest of their life is an anticlimax. They go into P.E.D., post-Edna depression.

What should those who only have seen you on TV expect from an evening with Dame Edna?

When I'm on TV, I can't lavish gifts on the audience. Onstage, I'm interacting with the people. The show is the audience; the audience is the show. And everyone who comes will receive the therapy of laughter. Doctors send people to my show. They don't have tickets; they have prescriptions. But most important, it's very much a family event. There is nothing to offend yet everything to shock.

Have you ever seen Godspell?

It's a lovely show -- I'd like to see it on ice.