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New York City Theater

"Just Jim Dale"
Roundabout at Laura Pel Theater

Looking for a musical? A comedy? A drama? Vaudeville? Silly walks? Whatever? They’re all available in one package: the one-man entertainment called, modestly, ”Just Jim Dale.” Herein the talented, ingratiating, extrovert who starred in “Barnum” (Tony Award) and “Scapino” is giving a master class on how to enthrall an audience with a jolly evening of laughter and good will.

Here are tales of Dale’s English music hall background and love for that peculiar, ever-alive institution with its corny jokes and nostalgic musical numbers. ("I said, 'Waiter, what’s this?' He said, 'It’s bean soup.' I said, ‘I don’t care what it’s been. What is it now?'")

How about his hilarious ballet audition when his partner doesn’t show up forcing him into “a pas de deux for one”? Dale pretends she’s there, putting his arm around empty air or lifting the non-existent ballerina. Or the time he asks his father for advice and gets this answer: “Learn how to move.”

Move he did, physically and otherwise, from music hall to guitar-laden rock to legit to Oscar-nominated songwriter (for “Georgy Girl”), along the way going through a name change from his original James Smith. Dramatic scenes from Noël Coward’s “Fumed Oak” and Peter Nichols’ “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg” show his versatility. And let’s not forget his books-on-tape stint as all the characters in all the Harry Potter tomes. This prince of the theater had so much trouble sitting still and talking directly into a microphone that he almost blew the whole experience.

If a man of 78 can be described as pixieish, that is Jim Dale. His face may be creased, his step sometimes a bit hesitant yet he’s a child at heart, a mischievous kid who likes to tell off-color jokes though somewhat apologetically. And, always, pulled back to being a stage animal in a love fest with a live audience that’s willing to sing along, put their hands on their heads when ordered and laugh all the while.

Cheerfully accompanied by Mark York on the piano and directed with a light touch by Richard Maltby, Jr., “Just Jim Dale,” written by the star, is the tip of the iceberg. Fans will crave more: “Privates on Parade,” “Travels With My Aunt” and on and on. Truth is, you can’t get enough of him.

--David A. Rosenberg
June 6, 2014

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