On the Road: Broadway Up Close—One of the Best Shows on Broadway Isn’t a Musical

Tim Dolan is an  actor—occasionally. But his regular gig is as a Broadway tour guide and entrepreneur. He’s owner of Broadway Up Close, which offers walking tours of the Broadway/Times Square area and the interior of a Broadway theater. Next time you’re in New York and want a hugely entertaining and informative tour of Broadway—and want to see the interior of a grand old Broadway theater—book a tour with Broadway Up Close and its host, Tim Dolan.

I was in New York recently for a meeting of the American Theatre Critics Association–and of, some theater. One of our scheduled events was a tour of the grand old Hudson Theatre, where a highly rated production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is now being performed.

Tim Dolan. Photo by ATCA member Lynn Felder.

We congregated on a chilly morning in front of the Hudson Theatre and soon our host and tour guide arrived to check us in and hand out badges on bright green lanyards (green, because Dolan is Irish). We heard a brief history of the Hudson (built in 1903 and the oldest surviving theater in New York) and then walked across 44th Street to view the building’s architecture. The four-story building is designed in the Beaux Arts style, clad in tan brick, and designed by J. B. McElfatrick & Son. The firm later added innovations in theater safety design, such as 28 fire exits and a fire sprinkler system—inspired by the deadly Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago in 1903.

Both exterior and interior of the building were landmarked in 1987 and the Millennium Times Square hotel was built around the old theater building, which is flanked by a wing of the hotel on each side. The hotel renovated and used the theater as a corporate conference center for a while.

Tim Dolan and the Hudson Theatre. Photo by Nancy Bishop.

The tour included a stop in the theater foyer where we marveled at the coffered ceiling and the Tiffany lighting. Moving into the auditorium, we were able to sit in the comfy orchestra seats to learn more about the Hudson. The seating was redesigned in modern times by a British company for the current owner Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), a British firm. It turns out the Brits believe theater seats should be comfortable; the Hudson seats are the widest on Broadway at 23 inches and have more leg room than the standard vintage American theater. This reduced the seating from 1100 to 970, including the main floor, two cantilevered balconies and some boxes. (The landmark designation allowed for renovated seating.)

We trooped up to the first balcony (an elevator is available) for a different view of the theater, its Beaux Arts ornamentation, and more history. The Hudson operated with live theater until the Depression when it was closed for a few years and then had a brief life as a CBS radio studio. NBC operated it as a TV broadcast studio from 1949 to 1960. It was the home of the Steve Allen show and the site of Elvis Presley’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956 (an iconic moment for certain wannabe rock musicians). It also was operated as a rock music club and an “adult” movie theater before becoming the home of live theater again in 2017.

The ATCA tour group. Third Coast writers Nancy Bishop and Anne Siegel, front center. Photo courtesy Broadway Up Close.

We also visited the elegant VIP lounge. We didn’t get to visit back stage (that would be an excellent addition to the tour) or the top two floors of the building, which was a large family apartment for about 50 years. It’s been sealed for a few years but Dolan reported being able to visit it recently; it looks like the 1950s and many original 1903 touches remain.

Broadway Up Close offers six different tours, all conducted by professional actors or stage managers, who interweave their personal stories to provide an up-close glimpse of the life of a theater artist. The Hudson Theatre tour is the only one that provides an interior view of a theater. In-person public tours are offered at scheduled times; private tours can also be scheduled. See tour schedules and reserve your spot in advance on the website.

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Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

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