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BWW Reviews: JUST JIM DALE, A Lifetime of Laughter

You might say Jim Dale pulls a bit of a fast one on the audience late into his enchanting career-in-revue, Just Jim Dale.

Jim Dale (Photo: Joan Marcus)

While introducing the "Museum Song," that show-stopping patter that nimbly tripped from his tongue eight times a week when he starred in Barnum back in 1980 ("Quite a lotta / Roman terra cotta, / Livin' lava from the flanks of Etna..."), the beloved stage star explains that he and on-stage pianist Mark York are going to slow composer Cy Coleman's tempo down a bit so that we can appreciate the creative wordplay of Michael Stewart's lyric.

It certainly is a dandy lyric ("Armadillas, / Clever caterpillas, / Reproductions of the Cyclops' ret'na...") but a customer couldn't be blamed for thinking that the real reason for the decreased tempo is that, at 78 years of age, Dale may not be as up to speed as he was 34 years ago.

But wouldn't ya know it, after a complete go-round at the lingering pace, the two kick it into high gear and Dale is whipping the words through his lips the same way he did while winning the Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award for the role.

A bit like Elaine Stritch At Liberty minus the alcohol, Just Jim Dale, directed by Richard Maltby Jr., is a self-scripted roundup of his showbiz trek from 17-year-old small town Brit learning the ropes in music hall to teen pop star to Oscar-nominated lyricist ("Georgy Girl") to musical comedy star and, most recently, Grammy winner for multi-character readings of all of the books in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

Jim Dale (Photo: Joan Marcus)

To hear Dale tell it, it seems he's lived a charmed life. There are no personal struggles revealed and he seems blissfully happy in love; singing "The Colors of My Life" to affectionately honor his wife's avoidance of the spotlight. His passion for musical comedy began when seeing Lupino Lane in the original West End production of Me And My Girl, a show he'd eventually star in on Broadway. (Dale can still do a snazzy Lambeth Walk.)

Even when he got to exercise his dramatic chops, it was in Peter Nichols' dark comedy Joe Egg, and Dale recreates the play's opening scene where, as a school teacher, he disciplines his misbehaving students (the audience). A monologue from Noel Coward's Fumed Oak shows what he can do with heavier dramatic fare.

Happy to make himself the butt of his humor, there's a very funny story about an improvisational misjudgment during the run of Scapino and a rendition of his silly pop hit "Dick-a-Dum-Dum."

If there's a theme to the ninety-minute show, it's that Jim Dale learned early in life that he loves making people laugh and has spent the rest of his years doing just that. And he still does it so well.

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