Friday, September 23, 2011

Dale’s the Name, Jim Dale

And should this sunlit world, grow dark one day, the colors of my life, will leave a shining light, to show the way...”*

The son of a foundry worker and shoe factory employee from the tiny English town of Rothwell roamed the stage of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild’s attic-like performance space last night sharing stories, jokes, songs and dances with a standing-room-only crowd. In his new one-man show, “Just Jim Dale,” the Tony-winning star recalled his childhood start in British music halls, his days as a teenaged comic, then pop singer and songwriter turned Academy Award-nominated lyricist (“Georgy Girl”) and his recent gig as audio-book reader of the Harry Potter series. The colors of his life have, indeed, been bountiful and bold.

Young Jimmy Smith was 6 when he was seized by the showbiz call while watching a local variety show. The following year his father took him to London to see Me and My Girl and he declared that’s what he wanted to do. And as we know, he did exactly that, starring in a revival of that show decades later in New York.

But let’s not jump ahead -- back to childhood. His father, with amazing understanding for a laboring man, told him if musical theatre work was what he wanted, “you have to learn how to move.” So Jimmy was enrolled in tap, ballroom and “the dreaded ballet” lessons. “I was the Billy Elliot of our town.”

In the blown-up black and white photos of himself he held up, the lad in black pants and white dress shirt was a dark-haired, chubbier version of the lean, gray-haired 76-year-old man he is today. And he proved he not only learned to move back then, he also developed impeccable timing for story and joke telling and, of course, cultivated that golden voice.

A Jim Dale show would not seem complete without songs from his hit Broadway shows, Me and My Girl and Barnum, and he did not disappoint. His gift to us of the title song from the first show was enchanting, as was his “The Lambeth Walk.”

From Barnum, he not only sang “The Colors of My Life” as a tribute to his wife, Julie Schafler, and “There’s a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute,” but also gave us a breakdown of all the thrills his carnival-promoting P.T. Barnum had to offer in “Museum Song”. First he had pianist/musical arranger Mark York play the music slowly so we could hear each enticement, a few of which are: “Armadillas, clever caterpillas, reproductions of the Cyclops' ret'na, crystal blowing, automatic sewing, Venus on a shell and other works of art.” Then he let them fly RAPIDLY, just the way they sound on my 1980 cast album. Whew! What a joy.

He is certainly a giving man. This is the second benefit he’s done in two years for the Episcopal Actors’ Guild, an organization that provides same-day relief for actors in need. And he didn’t just do the show, which was directed by Broadway producer, director and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr., with musical direction/arranging by Aaron Gandy, he hung around at the reception to the bitter end, chatting with audience members.

No quiet browns and grays for this performer. He’s taken his days and filled them till they over flow, with rose and cherry reds . . .

*The Colors of My Life
from Barnum
Lyrics by Michael Stewart
Music by Cy Coleman

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