You can do a lot worse than having just Jim Dale, the 78-year-old English stage and film actor whose career has stretched from musical theater and Shakespeare to pop songwriting and audio books, around for entertainment.
“Just Jim Dale,” an unusually well-crafted autobiographical solo show mixing songs and heartfelt anecdotes, could have easily been done at a nightclub like 54 Below or the Café Carlyle, where Broadway performers often take their cabaret acts.
But as staged by lyricist-director Richard Maltby, Jr. at the Roundabout’s Off-Broadway space, it never feels out of place. On the contrary, being alone on a bare stage (except for a silent pianist) in front of a full crowd seems to energize Dale and heighten his considerable physical abilities.
Dale has previously appeared in other Roundabout productions including revivals of “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg,” “The Threepenny Opera” and “The Road to Mecca.” Shockingly, he was not cast as the chairman in its 2012 revival of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” a role for which he would have been perfect.
He is probably best known for playing showman P.T. Barnum in the 1980 musical “Barnum.” He offers three songs from it, including the super-fast, patter-filled “Museum Song.” Unsurprisingly, he does not again walk the high-wire, as he did in that musical’s act one finale.
He also sets up and performs multi-character scenes on his own, including when he unveiled the theme for the film “Georgy Girl” and his first day recording the audio books for the “Harry Potter” series.
But the heart of the show lies in his memories of starting out in the traditional English music hall. Even at his age, Dale can clown around with ease and speed. He also shares age-old jokes from the vaudeville stage to prove that they can still produce a laugh or two.