A look at some top walking tours of Broadway

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Visitors to Times Square looking for some theater history may be discouraged at the idea of dodging flocks of Elmo impersonators, Statue of Liberties and Naked Cowboys. A good guide is as important as a stiff elbow.

Guides can tell you where Barbra Streisand made her Broadway debut, which Broadway theater is haunted by a former Ziegfeld girl wearing a green dress and which theater was strictly segregated.

The Associated Press jumped aboard four top walking tours of the theater district to get the low-down, trying not to hum the Stephen Sondheim lyric: "I'm just a Broadway baby/Walking off my tired feet/Pounding 42nd Street."



Highlights: Ducking inside the massive AMC Empire 25 movie complex on 42nd Street to find a hiding former Broadway theater inside; story and photos of the secret apartment above the Belasco Theatre; hearing about the bizarre roof top shenanigans atop a theater built by Oscar Hammerstein I; learning why the colors of Equity Cards constantly change.

Program: Three tours, each about 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Cost: $35 per adult, children (12 and younger) $30.

Days: Every day at 11 a.m.

Selling point: Smart, funny and fascinating tours started by founder Tim Dolan, a theater veteran with an infectious style.

Accommodates: Up to 15 people.

Visual aid: iPad packed with photos.

Audio: Guides wear a small speaker around their neck.

Meeting point: Depends on which tour you take, but the first one starts at the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

Why choose them: "It has to be a tour guide who is passionate and it is their life. That's important to me," Dolan says. "Everyone who comes on the tour, they don't know that they want to know this history because it's history and history sounds boring. But if you find the right things to talk about, anyone will be fascinated."




Highlights: Access to Disney Theatrical props at the New Amsterdam Theatre, including a chance to wear the coat from "Mary Poppins"; get into Ariel's seashell tub from "The Little Mermaid"; handle some carbon graphite masks from "The Lion King"; and examine a fancy shoe from "Beauty and the Beast" (there's a run-of-the-mill Reebok high-top underneath).

Program: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Cost: $72 per adult; children (3-11) $65

Days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Selling point: The only tour to actually get you inside a Broadway theater and to handle some real props.

Accommodates: Up to 25 people.

Visual aid: Laminated photos.

Audio: Each person gets a headset to hear guide the talk, as well as listen to snippets of songs.

Meeting point: Duffy Square at 46th and Broadway by the George M. Cohan statue.

Why choose them: "There are a lot of great guides in New York and a lot of them really know their stuff and we're lucky to have them. But nowadays the demand is more and more for a little bit more immersive experience and going a little bit deeper," Stephen Oddo, co-founder of parent company Walks of New York. "You can find information pretty easily on your own. To be able to go into a theater, that's a whole different story."




Highlights: Gossip on actress Ethel Barrymore (she hated clutter and, weirdly, applause); visiting the Hotel Edison to see the place where a scene from "The Godfather" was filmed; learning about theater superstitions ("break a leg" and not saying "Macbeth" out loud).

Program: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Cost: Adults $35; children 12 and under, free

Days: Every day at 4 p.m.

Selling point: Cheerful, knowledgeable guides, all theater fans.

Accommodates: Up to 20 people.

Visual aid: Laminated photos.

Audio: Guides wear a small speaker around their neck.

Meeting point: Duffy Square at 46th and Broadway by the George M. Cohan statue.

Why choose them: "It's the authentic, immersive nature of our tour," says Andrew Luan, the founder. "It's not that hard to start a tour company. I think what we have is a process to source, manage and maintain quality. I think that's out differentiator."




Highlights: The story of the night Bill and Hillary Clinton went to "Chicago"; honoring Firehouse Engine 54, which lost many on 9/11; listening to Judy Garland sing "Plays the Palace" outside the Palace Theatre; the story of 20-year-old Julie Andrews' fitful start in "My Fair Lady"; finding out why there are so many Irish pubs near Times Square; learning how the TKTS booth works and getting a list of tips on finding discounted theater tickets; listening to hits written in the Brill Building outside the Brill Building.

Program: 90 minutes.

Cost: Adults $30, Children (6-12) $20.

Days: Every day at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Selling point: Guides are working actors. Treats the tour like a show itself, complete with songs, impromptu dancing and recorded stories from Broadway royalty.

Accommodates: Up to 26 people.

Visual aid: None.

Audio: Each person gets a headset to hear an impressive collection of show tunes and snippets of interviews with such important figures as Chita Rivera, Hal Prince and Alan Menken, together with tales from knowledgeable guides.

Meeting point: The Actor's Chapel (239 West 49th St., between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)

Why choose them: "Hearing the music of the musicals while you do it brings it to life," says co-founder Don Frantz, a Broadway producer. "People walk away with a sense of the old, the current and — as far as the young tour guide — the up-and-coming."



Mark Kennedy is at