No Broadway Shows? No Problem. Walking Tours Fill a Void.

On a current weekday morning, a cluster of 10 masked out-of-towners discovered themselves within the garish maw of Times Square. Tim Dolan, their tour information, held up an iPad exhibiting a black-and-white photograph of the world in 1900, when it was full of horse carriages relatively than jumbo LED screens. In the photograph, a man is shoveling a pile of manure. “The only thing that hasn’t changed is the smell,” Dolan stated with affection.

Dolan calls himself “probably the only New Yorker who would ever say they love Times Square.” It’s his neighborhood, he says, regardless that he lives in an residence in Hamilton Heights along with his French bulldog, Belasco, named after his favourite theater.

Archival photos of Times Square are integrated into the excursions.Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

He’s additionally in all probability one of many few individuals who can let you know the story of the actor who appeared in 9,382 performances of “The Phantom of the Opera,” or exactly why there have been stay lions onstage on the Broadhurst Theater for 14 nights in 1921.

Dolan is the founding father of Broadway Up Close, whose shamrock-green-shirted tour guides have, for 11 years, led one hour-and-45-minute excursions of the world between 41st and 54th Streets, from Avenue of the Americas to Eighth Avenue. They discuss concerning the buildings, the enterprise and backstage gossip of the Theater District — together with this newspaper, which gave Times Square its title — monitoring its historical past from Oscar Hammerstein I to “Hamilton.” Dolan can also be behind one in every of Times Square’s latter-day landmarks and photograph ops, at present stashed away: a typographical jumble of the letters of “Broadway” close to a pedestrian plaza, which appears to be like good on Instagram.

Last yr, when the Great White Way went darkish, Dolan’s excursions stopped accordingly. (At the time, they have been operating 10 to 12 excursions a week.) The exsanguine ambiance of the place was particularly heartbreaking for him. He missed his adopted group of performers, stage arms, TKTS workers members. “Even the Naked Cowboy,” he stated. “I felt like I saw literal tumbleweeds roll down 44th Street.”

A pre-pandemic poster for “Sing Street,” which was supposed to begin previews on the Lyceum Theater in March 2020. Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times“Hamilton” will resume performances on Sept. 14 on the Richard Rodgers Theater on West 46th Street.Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York TimesA poster for “MJ the Musical,” scheduled to open this winter on the Neil Simon Theater on West 52nd Street.Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

But now, with coronavirus in retreat and reopening dates showing on theater marquees, Dolan and his Broadway Up Close tour guides are again on the sidewalks almost on daily basis, catering to a slowly however certainly rising variety of guests.

It beats giving the excursions nearly, although Dolan nonetheless conducts a couple of digital excursions a week. “So much of it is reading the audience, engaging with the audience, picking up on what they’re most interested in,” Dolan stated. “It’s hard to do that in a webinar.”

Visitors joined Dolan for a current “Shubert Brothers and Beyond” tour.Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Given that the excursions appeal to musical lovers and theater die-hards, they’re additionally at present serving as a substitute for precise Broadway. “We would definitely be seeing a show a night,” stated Carrie Mershon, a customer from Kansas who was taking the tour. She had booked the household’s New York journey months in the past, within the hopes that Broadway productions could be up and operating by now. No such luck; their present tickets had been refunded. “This fills the void a little bit.”

At least Dolan might be relied upon to placed on a present. Befitting the placement, the extra over-the-top the story, the higher: Know the one about a “Follies” woman who discovered herself driving a runaway ostrich? How concerning the music director who dove into a watery orchestra pit after a flash flood at “Evita”? Or the theatergoer who fell out of the window onto the marquee of the Lyceum Theater?

Dolan delivers colourful anecdotes and his fact-filled soliloquies with the polished enthusiasm of a jobbing actor. He was final onstage three years in the past, in a regional manufacturing of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and stated he had booked a present in Michigan earlier than the pandemic struck.

Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

He has an actor’s knack for the emotional overshare too, mentioning his ex-girlfriend in a solid photograph of the “Hamilton” touring manufacturing. “She’s with Daveed Diggs now,” one of many youthful members of the tour group stated, matter-of-factly.

“I am aware!” Dolan replied.

He moved to the town in 2003 to coach on the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. After commencement, he carried out in “Altar Boyz” for 2 years, after which felt the strain to get what many within the career name a “survival job.” He’s nonetheless not a fan of the time period. “I didn’t want to just get by. I wanted another job that was just as fulfilling as when I’m onstage or in an audition room.”

Realizing there was a lack of excellent Broadway-centric strolling excursions, he picked up his New York City tour information license and got down to inform strangers lesser-known tales about his favourite place on the planet. He learn scores of books and scoured the photograph archives of the Museum of the City of New York and New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Most pleasurable, he relentlessly picked the brains of different business professionals.

The Broadway Up Close kiosk in Times Square.Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

If something, he needed to rein in his passions: The authentic model of the tour coated all 40 Broadway theaters open on the time, and was seven-and-a-half hours lengthy. Eventually, Dolan divided it into three separate excursions, later including a historic Alexander Hamilton tour and one on Broadway ghost tales, plus an inside tour of the Hudson Theater that’s at present on pause.

Dolan’s eyes gentle up when describing the very earliest days of Times Square, a time when, for instance, you may go to a recreation of a Dutch farm, replete with sheep and windmill, on a 42nd Street rooftop. Perhaps extra surprisingly, Dolan is a defender of the 21st-century incarnation of the place. “We lament the loss of the old, while loving the new,” he instructed the group whereas his “Shubert Brothers and Beyond” tour stopped within the spot the place a stunning French Renaissance-style theatrical complicated referred to as the Olympia was. (An Old Navy retailer is there now.)

Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

“You can have commerce, and art, and a safe neighborhood all at the same time,” Dolan instructed me. “If you’re looking for the nostalgia amid the ‘Disneyification,’ you just have to know where to look. Wanting to find the old among the new is part of why I started this.”

Dolan expects Broadway Up Close to be again to prepandemic ranges of enterprise later within the yr. By then, he hopes, the world will begin to really feel like its previous self once more. “I don’t think it’s in September, when we just have a couple of shows open. I think it’s once we hit maybe December, and there’s a handful of shows, and there’s the yellow Playbills in a sea of people in Times Square. Maybe less masks too. I don’t think New York City will fully be reopened until that moment happens.”

Tim Dolan calls himself “probably the only New Yorker who would ever say they love Times Square.”Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Before that, Dolan has a date, on Sept. 14, with the Gershwin Theater — the place “Sweeney Todd” had its premiere in 1979 and “Starlight Express” opened in 1987 — for the return of the musical “Wicked.”

“I’ll be the grown man in the last row, crying.”