JUST JIM DALE

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Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre (111 W. 46th St., between 6th & 7th Avenues)

If you’re in the mood for an evening of light entertainment, this one-man autobiographical review starring the very charming Jim Dale may be just the ticket.

In a Nutshell: Chances are, if you are of less than “a certain age,” you’re not familiar with British/American star Jim Dale. However, once you get to know him, you’ll be a fan. Far from being “Just” Jim Dale, this versatile performer is a seasoned pro who has achieved success in practically every field of show business.

Mr. Dale is ably accompanied by Mark York, billed as “Mr. Dale’s personal pianist since 2006.” The show is written by Mr. Dale and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr.

What’s It All About? In Just Jim Dale, the Tony-winning song and dance man shares the personal story of his transformation from little Jimmy Smith in the tiny English town of Rothwell, to performing 14 shows a week in British music halls, an early career as a pop singer, to the Shakespearian stage, and on to great success as Jim Dale.

Dale’s musical hall past serves him well in Just Jim Dale—he has an easy, companionable style that extends over the footlights to directly engage with the audience. And the small size of the Laura Pels makes it the perfect venue for this intimate one-man performance.

Dale has enjoyed an incredibly diverse 60-year career in show business. He has triumphed in film, television, music, theatre, and even audiobooks: he created nearly 150 different voices for all of the characters in the award-winning “Harry Potter” audiobooks series. (If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks you can hear a few examples of those characterizations in Just Jim Dale).

He won a Best Actor Tony in 1980 for his performance in the title role of Barnum, has five Tony nominations, four Drama Desk Awards, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards. Other Broadway performances include Scapino, Joe Egg, Me and My Girl, Candide, and the role of Mr. Peachum in The Threepenny Opera.

And I bet you didn’t know that he penned the lyrics for the Oscar-nominated hit tune “Georgy Girl”. That song (performed by the Seekers) was a huge hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard chart in 1967 and selling over 7 million records. Dale performs the song in Just Jim Dale (and at least half of the audience left the theatre humming its catchy riff).

Furthermore: Incredibly, Dale is now 78 years old. His years of training as a dancer have served him well: he is whippet thin, as lithe as a gymnast, and has the stamina and flexibility of a man less than half his age. Since most of the audience members at the Pels appeared to be of his generational cohort, they were particularly in awe of his youthful vigor. It was also obvious that many of them had seen Dale in his many New York theatrical appearances. So Dale was performing for his fan base and he delighted in their warm embrace.

Show Highlights:

–        No need for the standard “please turn off your cellphones” pre-show announcement at this production. The audience is treated to a very funny prerecorded (by Dale) explanation of what will happen to anyone whose phone rings during the performance.

–        “There’s a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute” from Barnum. It’s a terrific song (by musical great Cy Coleman) and Dale nails it: “Why you can bet I’ll find some rube to buy my corn. Cause there’s a sure-as-shooting sucker born a minute, and I’m referrin’ to the minute you were born.” You’ll see why he won the Tony for his performance.

–        “You Think You Haven’t Quoted Shakespeare?” is a witty patter number made up of commonly used snippets from Shakespearian works strung together into sentences. One of the tour de force moments in the show, along with “The Museum Song” from Barnum, another star turn where Dale has an opportunity to show off his ability to deliver a rapid-fire vocal.

–        “Georgy Girl.” Who knew Dale wrote those lyrics? “Hey there, Georgy Girl. There’s another Georgy deep inside. Bring out all the love you hide and, oh, what a change there’d be. The world would see a new Georgy Girl.” (How long until you get the song out of your head)?

Should You Go? If you know who Jim Dale is (which probably means you’re over 50) you’ll delight in hearing his picaresque tales, listening to him sing, and watching his “rubber man” dance moves. If you’re a 20- or 30-something with more modern tastes, you may be advised to choose another show.

Caveat: With a run time of only 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission), the show seems a bit overlong, even for the most ardent fan.

Trivia: In The Simpsons episode “Lisa the Beauty Queen”, Homer sings a parody of “Georgy Girl”: “Hey there, blimpy boy! Flying through the sky so fancy free!”

Ticket Info: As of this writing, the show runs through August 10. Half-price tickets are frequently available at the TKTS booth in Times Square.

Just Jim Dale show website

A Little Bit of This; A Little Bit of That

With the new fall season in full swing, there is so much to see and talk about. So in this post I’ll give a few “quickie” reviews of shows I’ve seen recently.

The Winslow Boy: American Airlines Theatre (Roundabout) (11-20-13)

This excellent Old Vic production is a revival of a Terence Rattigan play that originally premiered on Broadway in 1947. It is based on a true story about a young boy who is expelled from his British military school for allegedly stealing a small sum of money from a classmate. He swears his innocence—and his father risks both his health and his family’s future to pursue a court case in his son’s defense. Is the father foolishly obsessed with a futile battle? Is the boy innocent or guilty? How far should one go in pursuit of justice? The play doesn’t necessarily answer these questions, but it is never less than riveting throughout its 2 hour and 40 minute run time.

Should you go? Absolutely. The cast, direction, sets, even the costumes, are all first rate. In less capable hands, the play could easily become trivial or tiresome, but this cast, especially Michael Cumpsty (Desmond Curry), Roger Rees (Arthur Winslow), and Alessandro Nivola (Sir Robert Morton) convey every nuance of the text through subtle facial expressions and vocal expertise. It really is “theatre” at its best. It’s listed on TDF and at the TKTS booth, so no excuse not to buy a ticket.

The Glass Menagerie: Booth Theatre (10-29-13)

In a nutshell: This is one of our greatest American plays, and this is probably the best production we’re going to see for a long time. Tennessee Williams’ 4-character “memory play” is based on characters from his life: himself, his mother, and his mentally fragile sister Rose. It is a poetic and touching tale of unrealized dreams and unanswered prayers. It is always a privilege to see Cherry Jones, one of the most talented actresses of her generation, perform on stage. She shines, as expected, but it is Zachary Quinto (known to filmgoers as the new Spock) as Williams’ stand-in Tom, who leads the production into the sublime. His performance of Tom’s opening soliloquy, spoken in darkness at the edge of the stage, weaves a spell that lasts through the final curtain: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

The negative: I didn’t love some of the director’s staging decisions, specifically, Laura’s appearance and exit from inside the sofa (really) which distracted and detracted from the play’s magic, and the use of pantomime for some stage business. But given the beauty of the overall production, let’s not dwell on it.

Should you go? The question should be, “Can you go?” This is a tough ticket, and the Booth is a smallish theatre. The run has just been extended and tickets are sometimes available at the TKTS booth, so go for it. And if you’re the hearty type, snag a $30 standing room ticket, as I did. (You might even be able to grab a seat).

Nothing to Hide: Pershing Square Signature Center (10-9-13)

Here is magic of the more literal kind: sleight of hand. Do you have a spare 75 minutes and a need to escape the pre-Holiday madness that is creeping over NYC? Head on over to 42nd & 10th Avenue where the charming Helder Guimarães and Derek DelGaudio are amusing and amazing audiences with card tricks that go way beyond the ordinary. The 2-man show is brought to us and directed by Renaissance man Neal Patrick Harris, President of the Academy of Magical Arts in CA and—who knew? —a bona fide “magic geek”. The show comes to NYC from a record-breaking run at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

These guys come with impressive bona fides: DelGaudio is a Los Angeles-based magician who consults for Walt Disney Imagineering and has been named Close-up Magician of the Year for 2012 and 2013. Guimarães, originally from Portugal and now also based in CA, became the youngest ever World Champion of Card magic in 2006 at the age of 23. They are both charming and adorable (see photo).

Using nothing more than decks of playing cards (and a sock monkey) these two masters of distraction and sleight of hand, with the audience as willing co-conspirators, provide a most pleasant diversion from workaday troubles. They’re working hard, but all you have to do is sit back, relax, and let them fool you.

Should you go? While this is no “important” night at the theatre (see above reviews), it is a well-done production and it’s a lot of fun. These two are pros. (And they come highly recommended by NPH). The show, which is at Signature, but is not a Signature production, has been extended through January 18. Tickets are available through Ticket Central.