Ted Sod: You’ve been an actor, a singer, a songwriter and a comic for over 60 years. To what do you attribute that longevity?
Jim Dale: Our show business tree has many branches as well as many roots to it. As a young man they looked as if they would be fun to explore. The experience gained climbing one particular branch could help one’s career later while exploring another. Years ago, one of those branches was a disc jockey job working for the BBC. I told myself that one day I might be asked to play such a part in a play and a little previous experience would be invaluable in creating a more colorful character—I’m still waiting.
TS: Is there anything that you wouldn’t like to do?
JD: I would never try Hamlet on ice.
TS: Tell me a bit about the genesis of this show. What made you decide that it was time to do a solo show?
JD: Most people can only write down their memoirs and leave those memoirs to their grandchildren to read. In this instance I thought, “Wouldn't it be nice to put those memoirs into a show, some sort of stage production which could be videotaped? My grandchildren could at least play a DVD of their grandfather's work and perhaps play that DVD for their grandchildren.” That was really the genesis of the idea behind it—to leave something more than the written word.
TS: What made you decide to work with Richard Maltby, Jr. as director?
JD: There have been three or four things in my career that I always ask for: a great script, followed by a great director, followed by a great cast, and then followed by, hopefully, a good review. Having a top director looking after me during any production is vital and I think Richard Maltby has been a perfect collaborator. He's experienced as a songwriter, as a lyricist, and as a director. I was very honored when he saw the show early on and said, "You know, I would love to help you polish this and put it into shape" which he did. When we work together, we hardly need to talk—we just look at each other. One of us shakes his head, and the other agrees. We've managed to cut, edit, and polish this down from a two-hour show to about 90 minutes, no intermission.
TS: Tell us about your working process.
JD: I have an apartment with a piano here, so for the first time in my career I was able to use my home as a rehearsal room. Richard turned up here regularly with my great pianist, Mark York, and my favorite musical director, Aaron Gandy. The four of us would sit and go over the script word for word. We tried the show out of town at a few theatres and it received the kind of reception an actor can only dream of.
TS: Because it's a solo show, do you feel as if the audience is your acting partner?
JD: Oh, absolutely! It's a double act between you and the audience. They are such an integral part of the show. It’s not only laughter that one needs to judge an audience by, it is also the silences you feel and hear when an audience is truly listening. We talk a lot about the sound of laughter, but there are magical moments when you hear no laughter but sense a theatre full of huge smiles. Some old timer once said, “If there is anything better than laughter let me know.” How very true.
TS: How difficult was it to choose what stories you are going to tell?
JD: It was terribly difficult. Don’t forget, it’s 60 years of stories. We had to pick and choose, but there are enough memories for three or four, Just Jim Dales. So much great material. This is just 90 minutes of it. I've no time to even mention anything to do with the British, "Carry On" film series. These were 33 films that were made for British cinemas over thirty five years, and I was involved in 14 of them. They are still so popular on English television that the whole "Carry On" team is now comedy icons, and the whole series has been accepted into the British Museum archives as the best of British 20th century humor. If Just Jim Dale ever goes on to England, then I will have to edit something out to include a section of "Carry On" stories. They are probably the most hilarious of all.
TS: How many songs do you actually perform?
JD: We've got music for twelve songs. Some of them are my own compositions; others are songs that I've been connected to over the years.
TS: I was astounded to realize that you wrote one of my favorite songs, “Georgy Girl.” How did that happen?
JD: Well, that's one of the moments in the show. There are instances, instead of just crooning “Georgy Girl,” we choose to tell the true story as to how that song came to be written.
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2013-2014 Season, Just Jim Dale