Theater Review: “Just Jim Dale”
Jim Dale can do a lot more than just voice the many characters within the Harry Potter series. In fact, this is the underlying message of his one-man show, Just Jim Dale. The piece is a testament to a creative life, lived well, that enjoyed a great deal of success decades before a boy wizard would bring him straight to the ears of fans across the globe.
Just Jim Dale, accompanied by pianist Mark York, is a life story, narrated by the man himself with that ubiquitous, captivating voice we know and love, intermingled with original music and choreography. Starting with the nature of his humble beginnings in Rothwell, Northhamptonshire, Jim brings us from his brief foray as a young dancer, to the moment of his first acknowledgement of himself as a performer, to the accident that—during an audition for a traveling comedy show—would catapult him into the public spotlight, forever.
Though his Potter experience ultimately takes up less than 5 percent of the show’s narrative (though it included a fabulous anecdote about how he came up with the voice of Dobby) Jim’s retelling of the rest of his own life story is no less magical. He talks at length about his career as a singer/songwriter, for instance. Did you know Jim Dale had a brief stint as a British-teen singing-sensation? He was quite the heartthrob! (It’s true.)
Jim details his career in music with a collage of old photographs, retelling all the old stories surrounding his initial song and album releases, including the weird thing that happened after he penned the hit song, ‘Georgy Girl’. (Without going into too much detail, the “weird thing” include a run-in with Americans Jim have sworn belonged to the mafia!)
But is this a show for you? There is a particular moment during the show where Jim describes how he needed to quit his first jaunt as a stage actor when the show had him running the skits every night, and he became bored. Yet ironically this performance comes off at first incredibly rehearsed, with somewhat little creative wiggle room (though that room exists and Jim does make brilliant use of it, at one point asking his accompaniment to play a song slower then was done in any of the previous performances). In any case, while the story unfolds, Jim completely loses himself in it, and gradually convinces you to come along for the ride. And he’s funny. Wanting nothing more than to make others laugh, he throws jokes in constantly. And his stage presence is masterful.
If any one complaint could be made, perhaps it’s the evident lack of effects. In this low budget production, Jim, his pianist, the piano and a background screen for an offsite projector cycling old photographs makes the whole show, as Jim more or less asks the audience to simply listen and imagine the story as he narrates it. It was impressive that Jim could find such a variety of creative ways to tell his story, but in my opinion, the set was wanting some props.
After seeing the show, one gets the impression that Jim is slightly indignant about the fact that he had a successful past prior to his Potter fame, making sure to present every notch on his belt in the most artful and thoughtful ways he could conceive in this show. However, while he took us through the rich photo album that is his life, I couldn’t help wonder how incredible it was that the ‘Potter’ series has drawn such artistic personalities to its pages. Jim has a natural talent he has honed and developed into his golden years, and seems poised to create even more art in the future.
While I was impressed with the performance, and his lifelong achievement in the arts, the work Jim put into the audio books will always reside in a special compartment of my soul. Truly, after having this unique look at the man behind the voice, I can safely say that Scholastic and J.K. Rowling could not have found a better man for the job.
Details on how to purchase can be found on the Roundabout Theatre website. Just Jim Dale runs through August 10, 2014.