Southern California native and UCLA grad James Michael Lambert has been a StageSceneLA favorite since I first saw him in Imagine, a kids’ show at South Coast Repertory, followed soon after by his performance as the iconic Ralph Malph in the national tour of Happy Days The Musical. As a “Troubie,” Jimmy has appeared at Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theater in Frosty The Snow Manilow and Oedipus The King Mama. For the past year or so, Jimmy has been touring as Eddie in the international mega-smash Mamma Mia!, its upcoming stop at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts marking a return to Costa Mesa where the triple threat first impressed me with his “charm and stage presence.” (A quote from my Imagine review.) It was great catching up with Jimmy on this exciting past year of his professional life.

Hi Jimmy, after having seen so much of your work in L.A., I’m excited to be seeing you again on the Mamma Mia! tour after such a long time away! Let’s start at the very beginning. Where and when in your life did the acting bug bite, and what did you do when it did?

The acting bug bit me when I was in kindergarten.  My elementary school did plays every year and this year I was the Tin Man.  

A lead role from the get-go!

I don’t think that if I played a chorus member I ever would have continued to stay interested in theater.  Years later in the fourth grade I played Gaston and fell in love with theater. Later that year I did my first community theater production, The Sound Of Music, and just continued to do it not only because it was lots of fun but because the people were amazing and the girls were super cute.  I really knew it was my calling when I saw The Lion King and before the curtain fell I was the first person standing up. I was so amazed at what I just saw and thought if I could make people as happy and put a grin on people’s faces like they just did to me then that’s the “job” I want to do for the rest of my life!

What would you say was your favorite role or production before joining the Mamma Mia! tour?

My favorite role of all time before joining Mamma Mia! has to be J. Pierpont Finch in How To Succeed In Business because I feel I somehow know him  from a past life (Jimmy laughs) and I relate to him on so many levels. Not to mention growing up, that was the first musical CD I ever bought and I sang it all the time.  I was able to get a bootleg copy of Mathew Broderick doing the show when I did it and I studied his every move. I thought he was absolutely brilliant in that production and I loved the challenge of trying to be so incredibly sly and whimsical and have it build throughout the entire show.  He’s not only a character to me but such an incredible human being with so much going on.  With that many levels I thought, acting is the most incredible thing and then I get to sing and dance on top of it, count me in!

Jimmy as Ralph Malph in Happy Days (with Steven Booth as Richie and Joey Sorge as Fonzie)

You’ve had quite an association with Garry Marshall, particularly as Ralph Malph in the Happy Days tour. What are your best memories of working with Garry?

Working with Garry is the biggest dream come true. Even before I knew who Garry Marshall was my favorite movie that I watched as a kid, all the time, was Overboard. I mean I was literally obsessed with that movie. 

I’ve seen Overboard a few dozen times, though I won’t bore you with why. Needless to say, I love it too!  One of Garry’s very best films!

Garry is the most incredible human being I have met in show business and one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met.  Words cannot truly express how much I not only look up to Garry for career advice but also look up to him as a gentleman, a family man, and a man that is so truly giving and loving to everyone that steps into his world.  Before this tour I actually sat down with Garry and asked him whether I should take this job or not and he not only gave me the OK but also inspired me to keep working on other projects on the road. He doesn’t know this but I read his book and it’s like my daily inspiration.  I owe Garry for a whole lot in my career thus far and I am so incredibly blessed that he’s taken me under his wing and takes time to talk to me being the man that he is … but that is who he is, always making time for everyone, despite his incredibly busy schedule of making hit motion pictures and ALWAYS making you feel like part of his immediate family.  THANK YOU GARRY!  I’ll never forget when I was doing Happy Days and he said to me, “You’re doing good kid!  Keep it up!”  My all time favorite memory though is playing on his softball team with him while he coached or pitched. This moment I will never forget. 

Jimmy in Frosty The Snow Manilow (center in picture on right)

Two of the favorite shows I’ve seen you in have been Oedipus The King Mama and Frosty The Snow Manilow, with the illustrious Troubadour Theatre Company. How does working with The Troubies compare with your other musical theater gigs?

Working with the Troubies is everything to me. The Troubies are the most brilliant group of actors, people. They are my family.  Matt walker is the most brilliant man and I got the honor of playing with him every night in Happy Days as the wrestler that scared the living day lights out of me.  

Jimmy (2nd from left) and the Troubies with their multiple Ovation awards.

How far does your association with the Troubies go back?

This story is so funny because when I was in college at UCLA my senior year we all had to pick a Broadway musical to study and then audition for. Well, my show was the only non-Broadway show and it was entitled Alice In One Hit Wonderland.  Yes, a Troubies show! Fate?  I think so now looking back.  My audition song ended up being a one-hit-wonder song called, “The Wanderer.” Then when I met Matt and he said, “Come see my show. This is my theater company,” I about pooped myself. And right when we were getting off the road he was putting up Oedipus at the Falcon Theater and I asked him if I could do it and he graciously put me on the Troubies team. 

That must have been so exciting!

In short, I consider Matt Walker as my mentor. I look up to him with the utmost respect. He’s taught me so much and I am beyond grateful. I would not be who I am without Matt Walker or the rest of the Troubies.  The Troubies are my family and I truly wish I could be performing with them right now simultaneously while doing the Mia. They are everything to me! 

Jimmy (with the expressive hands) in Mamma Mia, and far right in picture on right.

What’s been the high spot of the tour so far?

The high spot for tour is being able at the end of the show to party with 3000 people a night during the mega mix. It truly is a rock concert and gives me chills every night. I feel like a rock star and also part of the party within the seats and this is the exact reason I started doing this. To make people laugh and to put the biggest smiles on their face leaving the theater exhilarated and dancing into the streets, forget all their problems.

To what do you attribute the phenomenal success of Mamma Mia!?

I attribute the success of Mamma Mia! to the fans and their love for ABBA music, their support and generosity of giving so much energy to the cast for us to perform, and for a beautiful plot which encompasses something that everyone feels at one time in their lives.  I think that everyone can relate to one of the characters in the show in some way and that’s what makes it so incredibly special. Plus who doesn’t love to get out of their seats after watching a beautiful show filled with love and party.

You’ve got stops in San Diego and San Jose before your week in Costa Mesa, but your week at the Segerstrom Center is your closest to L.A., at least for the time being.  How do you feel about your upcoming week in the O.C. and being back so close to friends and family?

Shortly put I love Orange County.  I love my friends and my family.  They are everything to me and I am so happy and excited to be seeing everyone. 

Is there any particular role you’d really like to sink your teeth into in the next few years?

In the next few years I would love to do another incredible show with the Troubies that hasn’t been done yet, would love to do a role in one of Garry’s movies if I’m so lucky to get the chance, and would love to do Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys because I think that would be a difficult but incredibly rewarding role.

It seems that more and more young people are planning careers in theater, and specifically musical theater.  What’s your best advice to them?

I would say keep your head down, avoid all the drama, if you truly want it, work harder than everybody else and just because someone tells you “No” doesn’t mean they will forever.  Never give up if you this is what you truly love.

Assuming you’ve thought about life “beyond the tour,” what would you like your next career step to be?

I’m currently working on an album that will hopefully be done by next year with some incredible artists and writers. This is something that I have always wanted to do. Soooo … more to come on this very soon.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all these questions!  I can’t wait to say Hi at the stage door on Opening Night!

Click here to purchase tickets to Mamma Mia! 

Mamma Mia photos by Joan Marcus. Headshot by Kenneth Dolin. Troubadours photos by Chelsea Sutton.  Happy Days photo by Michael Lamont.

Jimmy’s Mamma Mia! Bio:
Last seen nationally in Happy Days (Ralph Malph) with world renowned director Garry Marshall & Oscar composer Paul Williams. 
Film/TV: Emmy winning Mad Men (AMC), Lights. (PBS) Graduate UCLA TFT. <3 2: M,D,GM,AF,CL,MW,J&M, & RL!


Comments are closed.