Tim Dolan is the owner and operator of Broadway Up Close, one of New York City’s highest rated attractions. They offer a variety of walking tours covering the history of Broadway. The tours cover history, architecture, celebrity legends, and even a few ghost stories.
Cinema and live theatre have always had a great history. I had the chance to speak to Tim about the many connections between the two performing arts genres.
Hi Tim, can you tell us a bit about your history and background? What prompted you to start the Broadway Up Close tours? What can guests expect on your tours?
I started Broadway Up Close because I saw an opportunity to create an experience that would bring theatre-goers closer to the magic, history, and anecdotes of Broadway’s past. By getting to know the history and stories of the Broadway theaters, there will hopefully be a heightened engagement when they go and see a show in one of those beautiful buildings. On our tours we cover everything: anecdotes, ghost stories, history, architecture, money, how shows are built, auditions, lives of us actors and stage managers. There’s almost nothing we don’t cover!
Broadway and cinema have a long history together. We’ve seen many movies made into Broadway shows, and many shows made into films. What are some of your favourite musicals that have been adapted into movies?
I grew up watching West Side Story and Singin’ In The Rain. I think it would be hard to top either of those musical films, although I have loved some of the recent additions to the catalogue. I’m really looking forward to the adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen. I think that’ll lend itself to the film medium nicely.
What about movies being adapted to the stage, any favourites?
I enjoy the movie-to-Broadway subset of our industry, and have to say that they’ve covered almost every movie I grew up watching. My favorite movies are Sister Act and Mrs. Doubtfire – and while I didn’t get to see Mrs. Doubtfire in the three preview performances on Broadway before the shutdown, I think it’ll lend itself well to being musicalized.
In Funny Girl, the New Amsterdam Theatre is featured. It was the original home to the Ziegfeld Follies early in the 20th Century. Can you tell us a bit about the Follies, and it’s history?
The Follies, to me, was like Saturday Night Live meets a Las Vegas show meets the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Florenz Ziegfeld, the creator, took great care in crafting unique performance acts, topical comedy of the day, and his line of Follies Girls to make an incredible night at the theater. It began on the roof of the Olympia Theatre (then called the New York Theatre) in 1907 before moving to the New Amsterdam in 1913 where it settled in for many years.
In Funny Girl, the theatre exterior is recreated at the Columbia Ranch (now the Warner Bros Ranch) in Hollywood. The interiors were filmed at the old Warner Bros Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. How do you think they production did with recreating the look that the theatre would have had in the 1920s?
I think they did a wonderful job in creating the magic and ambiance of the New Amsterdam Theatre for Funny Girl. It’s a beautiful theater with a distinct marquee – so, if you are very familiar with the front of the New Amsterdam you’ll see that it’s not the same. But the average viewer wouldn’t think twice. I’m always impressed by the level of detail that Hollywood achieves when not filming on location.
The movie is loosely based on the life of Fanny Brice. Can you tell us a bit about her rise to stardom? What do you think has made Fanny Brice so legendary and enduring over the years?
While I’m by no means a Fanny Brice expert, I think her stardom and legacy has endured thanks in part to Funny Girl and the incredible performance of Barbara Streisand. I also think her signature performance style was unique, New York, and iconic in a male-dominated industry. Fanny Brice is quintessentially New York.
There are stories about the New Amsterdam Theatre being haunted, but not by Fanny Brice. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The New Amsterdam has been known to be haunted by Follies Girl Olive Thomas. Her first appearance was in 1952 and she’s been known to be seen about once per decade ever since. She has only been seen by men and is very flirtatious each time. The last eye witness account was in 2006 – so, we’re due for a new sighting any time now!
In the original Producers film, the Playhouse Theatre was used for both interior and exterior filming. The theatre was torn down many years ago, but do you have any interesting info about the theatre?
The Playhouse was one of five theaters on 48th Street on the east side of Times Square that used to be known as “the street of hits.” Sadly, only the Cort Theatre is still standing over 100 years after its prime. The Producers was the last thing filmed in the Playhouse before it was demolished to make way for a parking garage. Ironically, the man who designed the most theaters still standing in NYC, Herbert J. Krapp, was the architect for the garage!
When the 2005 musical version of The Producers was filmed, they used the Shubert Theatre. Can you tell us a bit about this theatre? Do you have any stories or info about the filming of the movie here?
Most of the newer Producers movie was filmed on sound stages, as far as I know. I had some friends who were featured in the Springtime For Hitler sequence and I believe that was filmed at SilverCup Studios in Queens. Shubert Alley is the alley-way next to the Shubert Theatre facade (used in the movie and in the Broadway show as well) which is the heart and home of our theatre district. It is uniquely “Broadway” and a special place where all of the shows currently playing have posters lining the Shubert and Booth Theatre walls.
Lincoln Center and it’s fountain have been featured in countless films. This includes The Producers, Ghostbusters, Black Swan, and many others. What do you think makes this particular location so popular for filming?
When film-makers are choosing New York locations, there are a few that are instantly recognizable. The fountain at Lincoln Center is one of those places. Surrounded by The Met, David Geffen Hall, and the City Theatre (with Lincoln Center’s three theaters behind there!), it has a distinct, visually stunning feel that translates well to film, I think. That fountain is beautiful and is right near where I lived when I first moved to NYC – so, to me, it feels like home!
In Ghostbusters 2, we see the Movieland Theatre, which was originally a Broadway Theatre known as the Central Theatre. Do you have any history of this theatre? Why do you think so many Broadway Theatres made the transition to cinemas?
While I don’t know a lot about the Central Theatre – I believe it was near Central Park and was demolished to make way for apartments if I’m not mistaken – many theaters were converted to movie theaters during Times Square’s seedier days in the 1970s and 1980s. There was less Broadway being produced and theater owners were looking to make any income they could off of their buildings. I think movies seemed like the easiest choice that wouldn’t require a large overhaul of the theater to accommodate the change.
The film Birdman extensively features the St. James Theatre. How do you think the Broadway experience was portrayed in the film?
I loved that a lot of Birdman was accurate to the physical environment (read: cramped) backstage at these older theaters. I’d say that about 90% of the movie was accurate. I had to laugh when Michael Keaton gets locked out in his underwear and runs into Times Square – if that part was accurate he could’ve just walked easily the other way and gotten back in…but, that’s not nearly as exciting!
Do you have any stories or info about the filming of the movie at the theatre?
The only story I heard about Birdman filming was that they put up the fake marquee for the movie on the St. James and people kept coming into the box office and trying to buy tickets to it!
If my readers would like more info about your tours and products, where can they find you?
More info about our tours can be found at: www.BroadwayUpClose.com. We have lots of updates on our Facebook Page (Broadway Up Close Walking Tours). During this Covid-19 shutdown I’m doing a virtual Broadway tour experience exploring one theater every week on our Instagram (@broadwayupclose).
You’ve also published several books about the history of Broadway Theatres. Can you tell my readers about books, and how they can order them?
Our souvenir books are full of glossy pages of all of the content and photos (and more!) from our tour experiences in person. These are great right now while many people aren’t traveling to NYC. Those can be found, along with all of our other merchandise from our Times Square Gift Shop (that is currently closed) on our website: www.Broadwayupclose.com/souvenirs.
Thanks so much to Tim for sharing his expertise! I’ve done several of the Broadway Up Close tours, and I can tell you they are really worth doing!