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"Each night I go to my job and meet 1,600 new people"

Dale at curtain-call goes right off the chart. "That feeling at the end of a show is something you hope is going to happen between you and the audience during the course of the performance. It means you've made contact with them. During the show I like to feel as if I have looked at everyone or glanced in their direction at least two or three times. You want to feel you've communicated with each and every one of them. 

"People sometimes say to me, 'How can you go out there every night and do it?' Well, the answer to that is that no day is the same for anybody. You go to your job, and you meet various people. I go to my job, and I meet 1,600 different people. Every night is different, every performance is different, and every audience is different. You can sense an audience's response within the first 30 seconds. It's as if the audience becomes one unit. They'll explode with laughter over a joke one night, and the next night there will not be a titter. We don't know what it is, but we do know that every effort has to be made to work a little harder."

To keep a star vehicle charging away on all cylinders requires more than the efforts of the star, of course, and Dale is blessed with a Tony-winning starring-partner (Maryann Plunkett) and four Tony nominated supporting players (George S. Irving, Jane Connell, Timothy Jerome, and Jane Summerhays). "I couldn't be out there doing what I am doing without such beautiful people to bounce off of," he readily admits.

But, essentially, the show rises or falls on the strength of its star, and few performers come better qualified for this particular assignment than Dale, who has a rather notable history for Broadway daredevilry. In 1974 the so-dubbed "clown prince of the Young Vic" scampered with distinction through Scapino, a breakaway version of Molière's Les Fourberies de Scapin, sometimes climbing ropes ten feet above the stage to deliver soliloquies. In his own Tony-winning role of Barnum in 1980, he put over one song during a 34-foot tightrope walk. Such stunts he takes in stride, pooh-poohing their difficulty like a born tumbler. "Tightrope-walking is simple," he insists. "Once you've learned to stay on the rope, anyone can do it. It's no big deal. It's just a matter of practice. It looked good -- we presented it in a very dramatic way on the stage -- but let me tell you that all the cast and all the stagehands at the end of a year could walk that tightrope. We put it up every day to practice on, and all the stagehands would climb up with their big boots on and stagger across that rope. They may not have looked as elegant as they could, but they stayed on the rope." 

Still, antics like that can give a guy a Broadway image, not an altogether accurate image at that, Dale feels. "In 30 years I've only done three musicals: this one, Barnum, and one I did over in England called The Card, based on Arnold Bennett's novel. That's not a lot. The rest have been plays, television, pictures, records. Now, I've got a name over here as a knockabout song-and-dance man. No way. Three shows in 30 years don't make me that. I'm an actor, first and foremost. You saw a little of it in the last thing I did on Broadway, Joe Egg.

"I've been very careful with my career. I can really look back and say I was very thrilled to have been able to have done the work I've done and not have to do stuff for the money. In the early days it was different. I did shows 20 or 30 years ago that one has to do to earn the bread. But I decided early on that I enjoyed being an actor for the quality of the work. Why sacrifice yourself to having to work ten times as hard putting over mediocre material when you could be just at home or out enjoying life?" Jim Dale has called his professional shots so well that, at 52, he looks half of that and behaves a quarter of it. Like Peter Pan, he has never had to grow up. "Thank God for that!" he sighs. "The day I grow up is the day I die." 

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