By Philip Dorian
How would you like to spend an hour-and-a-half in a theatrical legend’s living room while he reminisces and reprises highlights from his career, spanning vaudeville, stage and screen appearances up to and including success as an audio-book narrator?
That’s what sitting through “Just Jim Dale” feels like. Older in years (he’s 78) and steeped in charm, Jim Dale turns the Laura Pels Theatre on West 46th Street into his living room for 90 minutes of ingratiating coziness.
It’s a mini-course in show business history – from young Jim leaving a factory job at 17 to tour British Music Halls as a comedian up to his induction, 60 years later, into the American Theater Hall of Fame – along the way winning multiple awards for his narration of all seven Harry Potter audio books.
“Just Jim Dale” is very much a personal visit with the former busker-cum-Broadway star (“Joe Egg,” “Candide,” “Scapino”), whose father’s early advice, “Learn how to move,” set him on his course. While his dancing now is limited to a few soft-shoe riffs, he still moves with uncommon grace and hearing Jim Dale sing “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute” 35 years after introducing it in “Barnum” is worth the price of admission.
Among his composing credits are the lyrics to the Oscar-nominated “Georgy Girl,” which he also reprises, and both music and lyrics of “Dik-A-Dum-Dum,” which becomes even more amusing than its title when the audience sings along with him.
The show is not quite “just” Mr. Dale. Pianist Mark York provides ultra-smooth accompaniment and director Richard Maltby, Jr. has shaped the still-debonair star’s outing into one of the most agreeable solo shows of recent vintage.
“Just Jim Dale” runs through Aug. 10 at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., New York City. For Tuesday – Sunday performance schedule and tickets ($79): 212-719-1300 or online at RoundaboutTheatre.org.
‘Heathers’ on Stage
Some clichéd sayings make no sense without examples. (Try explaining “no good deed goes unpunished” without one.) “Life imitates art” is one such. (Until recently my example was people lined up to see “The Elephant Man.”)
The movie “Heathers” dates from 1989. Director Michael Lehmann’s satire of high school cliques wasn’t much praised upon its release, but it has evolved into a cult favorite over the ensuing quarter-century.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a male student and his girlfriend killing off several classmates, beginning with one of three “mean girls” all named Heather (thus the title) and passing the murders off as suicides. Finally, when his plan to blow up the gym during a student anti-suicide rally is thwarted, he straps the bomb to himself and detonates it. All in dark-comedy mode.
Recently, after attending the off-Broadway “Heathers: The Musical” at New World Stages on West 50th Street, a stage adaptation that adheres closely to the murders/suicide plot of the film, I learned of the previous day’s slayings and suicide at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The show “Heathers: The Musical” is actually very good. The music is catchy; the lyrics are clever and amusing, as is the book. The direction and choreography are top-notch and the mostly-young cast is uniformly excellent. In the leading role, Barrett Wilbert Weed was Drama Desk nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Musical.
Despite its several assets, however, I cannot recommend it. Sadly, my takeaway from “Heathers: The Musical” is a new way to define “Life imitates art.”