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  • Jim Dale is jumping for joy. Literally. He rushes from the single digit temperatures and Artic winds along 34th Street into the warmth of his Theater at Madison Square Garden dressing room and shakes himself down. It may be downright frigid outside, but Dale is filled with holiday warmth and having a Dickens of a time. Even if he is playing that bah-humbug of a scoundrel Scrooge in the musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

    "Can you believe how popular this show is?" he asks. He's just been told by the company manager that in spite of the [December 5] blizzard the show is sold out and the house is full.

    ACC, in addition to being an earful [favorites are "A Place Called Home" and "Nothing To Do with Me"], is quite an eye full. The Victorian-era costumes are elegant and colorful and must have cost a fortune. But the real deal is Tony Walton's 350' set of a very picturesque London. It must be the biggest set ever assembled, and, like an Advent calendar, elements open to reveal scenes within scenes.

    If the advertising is correct and this is the 10th and final year for ACC by Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens with a book by Ahrens and the late Ockrent [who also was the original director], Dale will, on December 27, be the last of a list of impressive Scrooges that have included Tony Randall, Roger Daltrey, Frank Langella and Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham.

    Dale, however, is the first Sir to play the role. "I'm not a sir!" he corrects, after being honored in November by Queen Elizabeth. "It's an M.B.E. [Member of the Order of the British Empire]. I was saluted by Her Majesty for being a member of the British Empire! You don't have to bow or kiss my ring - unless you wish to. That's your prerogative. It was quite a wonderful thrill. Now I can put those initials on my note paper, calling cards, even on rolls of my toilet tissue. You know, Her Majesty is quite considerate. She not only sent photos but also a video! That should be memorable, because I made the Queen laugh - out loud."

    He quickly adds, "Seriously, to be among the nearly one thousand chosen by Her Majesty from every nationality throughout the world, is, indeed, a great honor."
    The line of those before the Queen receiving knighthoods and titles was about 200, "so the norm for each individual is ten seconds. Of course, if she really likes you, you get about twelve seconds."

    If not exactly old friends, Dale and Her Majesty are well acquainted since Dale appeared before her and met her after a [1973] Royal Command Performance [when he was starring with Millicent Martin on the West End in Sir Cameron Macintosh's first musical production, The Card].

    "Even though we'd met," says Dale, "you do have to wait to be spoken to, and she asked, ëWhat have you been promoting in the America?' I told her about creating all the voices for the Harry Potter audio books. She asked, ëHow many voices do you do?' And I told her one hundred and thirty-four and she let out a great roar of laughter. My son Toby was in the audience and I could her him tell my son Adam that I made the Queen laugh."

    The Queen didn't say, but she probably also knows Dale from his appearances in the long popular Carry OnÖ movie series as well as his stage roles, which most recently included Fagin in a revival of Oliver!

    It's been quite a year for Dale. Not only was he Drama Desk-nominated for his performance in the hit Off Broadway revival of Comedians, but he's just been nominated for a Grammy Award, in the Best Children's Audio Book category, for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This is his third Grammy nomination. Dale won a 2000 Grammy in that category for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

    Dale, in addition to being a multiple Tony and Drama Desk-nominee has also been nominated in an Academy Awards category one might not associate him with: Best Song, for his title tune Georgy Girl. A prolific tunesmith, Dale's written hundreds of songs.

    Scrooge in ACC is a good fit for Dale. "I'm bringing to the character what Dickens would have wanted had he musicalized it - someone who's been brought up in the tradition of the English music halls, which would not only include musical theater but also pantomine. This is, after all, A Christmas Carol, The Musical, and that implies that you have to present it in a different way."

    That "way" allowed Tony-winning choreographer/director Susan Stroman [who was married to Ockrent] the leeway to compete, in a manner of speaking, with the great Christmas prize, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes. In ACC, there are the "Carolettes," not quite the long line of leggy dancers as Uptown but they are an impressive ten tappers and singers.

    Dale says he does not play Scrooge as a clown but as a serious character. "Going with Dickens' own words about Scrooge - ësteaming, scraping, scheming, cold as ice inside.' When he sings: ëPeople wanting this/People wanting that/Spreading bloody cheer/Plucking at your sleeve/Holding out the hand/Singing in your ear/Well, you can take Christmas and stuff it with bread,' you must make the audience believe that he a real bah-humbug. You go through that negative thread in order to realistically make him melt for the finale - forever changed by revelations by the various ghosts of Christmas into a loving human being."

    Except for 30 seconds, Dale's onstage the entire 90 minutes. "With two, three and four shows a day, I'm blessed to be appearing with a fantastic company. They look after me and I look after them. They're a jolly good bunch! And we all better be good and ready. We have five thousand folks to please at every performance. [Tickets are $35-$99.]

    Dale almost didn't make the Sunday, December 7, performances. Earlier, he fell on a metal setpiece and, it was revealed that he had a hairline fracture on one of the ribs. Until about five minutes before the curtain, he wasn't certain he could go on and sing. But, trouper that he is, he carried on.

    Dale began training for his orbit at age nine, studying tap, ballet, acrobatics and martial arts. In his early teens, he was already a veteran of amateur shows. After service in the Royal Air Force, where he entertained troops, he became a successful pop singer. In his 20s, he was hosting the top British TV rock ën roll show. The legendary George Martin of Beatles fame took him on to produce his records. In 1966, Dale was "quite taken by surprise" when he was invited to do Shakespeare at the Edinburgh Festival.

    Four years later, at the personal request of Laurence Olivier, he joined the British National Theatre and played leads in a host of classics. From there, he went to the Young Vic, where he first played the title role in Scapino, which he co-adapted with Frank Dunlop. That led to movies and the West End and, in 1974, to Broadway where Scapino became one of the season's biggest hits.

    It's been non-stop movies, TV and stage roles here and over there since. Dale's received his share of theatrical accolades: 1975 Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for Scapino; 1989 Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Actor in a Musical, Barnum; 1985 Tony nomination for Best Actor and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actor, Joe Egg; 1995 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards, Best Actor, Travels with My Aunt; and a 1997 Tony nomination for Best Actor, Musical, the Candide revival.

    Dale's been through it all. "I've always said I'd rather stay out of work than do crap. Unfortunately, that's often been the case. I've been sent up for a lot of much crap and I won't touch it with a ten foot pole. It won't bring me any good. I'd like those kind folks who've followed me for years and years wherever I've gone to always be proud."

    He does admit there was one job he was less than pleased with, the Hal Prince-directed Candide revival. "Basically, I wasn't being me but being asked to fill someone else's shoes. That was frustrating."

    He says he can't look back on anything he's done and say it wasn't quality. "That's why I chose what I did and surrounded myself with the best people. And it couldn't get any better than it was with Comedians [which also starred Raul Esparza]."


    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

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