A Knight #3’s Tale // By Tim Dolan
Actor & Broadway Historian Tim Dolan finds himself in the middle of the stories he has dedicated his life to telling.
Medieval minstrels were oral storytellers, conveying their tales in music. As someone who has always been obsessed with theatre history, I’ve often felt a kinship to this profession, dabbling, both as an actor and a business owner, in oral tales of theatrical days gone by.
From the dusty old annals of The Best Plays of 1890 to modern day Broadway historic moments—I love it all. And while the offstage portion of my life these days is concerned with digging up Broadway’s most interesting, historic moments through my company, Broadway Up Close, my history with theatre in its early days didn’t involve world renowned archives in New York City…a library, yes, but one less famous than my current surroundings.
In my adolescent pre-YouTube, pre-internet days, there weren’t many tangible resources to expand my theatrical horizons. Our small town, suburban local library branch in Shelby Township, Michigan, had perhaps the world’s strangest collection of cast recordings: Footloose, The Lion King, the original South Pacific, the 1995 Broadway revival of Company, and the Sarah Jessica Parker revival of Once Upon A Mattress. (Still to this day, I can do a pretty great cabaret style musical theatre montage of those greatest hits, starting with the “Somebody’s Eyes” trio from Footloose, immediately into “The Morning Report” and finishing with “Another Hundred People” in my best imitation of LaChanze.) It was eclectic, but it was all I knew. To me, these were the Broadway classics. This was HISTORY.
Cut to my sophomore year in high school. The spring musical announced for that year? Once Upon A Mattress—the classic 1959 Broadway musical version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea” that made Carol Burnett a star singing glorious songs by composer by Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard Rodgers) and lyricist Marshall Barer. Oh boy, was I ready! I knew every lyric, every character, every note. I had set my sights on the role of The Minstrel, but already I was wise to the ways of high school theatrical politics, so I knew it probably wouldn’t go my way. It didn’t help that the opening number sung by the Minstrel, “Many Moons Ago,” was this beautiful ballad fit for a lyrical tenor. My voice has been described with lots of adjectives over the years, but “lilting” isn’t one of them.
Instead, I was cast in the pivotal role of Knight #1, “Hey Nonny” and all.
Cut to 2003, three years later: I’d moved to New York City to study theatre in college, just blocks from the 40 Broadway theaters (The Hudson hadn’t reopened yet…) where all of this HISTORY had taken place. On any given night after class, I could casually walk down Broadway and snag a ticket for anything playing on Broadway. Wow!
I saw everything on Broadway. The long-running hits. The new plays and musicals. I was in heaven. Once I’d seen everything playing on Broadway, I moved to Off-Broadway. And with the kindness of my friend Theresa Flanagan, one night I was given a ticket to some show called Crossing Brooklyn at The Connelly Theatre downtown, produced by some company called Transport Group. It bowled me over. It was exciting. It was different. I knew I had to be involved with this company somehow.
Over the next few years, I saw nearly every production from Transport Group. And then came the announcement I had been waiting for. They were mounting a benefit concert production of one of my favorite musicals: Baby. I had an inkling they might need a few “up-and-comers” to sing the, like, four random ensemble parts of oohs and aahs in the background. And so, with the help of Theresa Flanagan (what would I do without this friend?), I managed to wedge myself into that concert. More benefit concerts followed, year after year—The Music Man, Peter Pan, Man of La Mancha, A Man of No Importance.
And then in 2013, Once Upon A Mattress. There it was again, circling back in my life. This Transport Group benefit concert starred the iconic John “Lypsinka” Epperson as Queen Aggravain and Jackie Hoffman as Princess Winnifred, the role originated by Carol Burnett—and me singing behind them! It was a hilarious, fun-filled experience from the first music rehearsal to the final (and only) performance. But the crowning moment for me? Composer Mary Rodgers in attendance. You wanna talk theatre HISTORY? Here it was personified in tangible, regal form. Nearly everyone involved in the concert sat rapt with attention in the wings, when, at the conclusion of the concert, Transport Group Artistic Director Jack Cummings III led a talkback with Mary. I couldn’t believe that I was in the same room as the woman who had originally written the melodies that I ’d been listening to since that day in the local library. And when I learned of her passing almost exactly one year later, I was thankful that I had had that opportunity to bask in the glow of her candor, anecdotes, and oral history told that night.
Two years later, my phone rings: it’s Jack. “Do you want to be part of the full production of Once Upon A Mattress that we’re mounting at the request of Mary Rodgers?”
Would I now officially be part of the HISTORY of fully mounted productions at Transport Group? Officially be part of the legacy of New York productions of this silly, iconic musical? I don’t think I could say “YES” fast enough!
Oh, and with my kinship to the tradition of medieval minstrels peddling their oral histories where e’er they go, you probably want to know what role I was cast in…
Knight #3. A demotion from my seminal star turn as Knight #1 in high school. I’m still working on my “lilt.”
About the author:
Tim Dolan moved to New York City shortly after graduating high school to pursue a career in the arts. On the small screen, Tim was featured on Season Two of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Onstage, Tim was the Dance Captain (and Knight #3!) in Transport Group’s Off-Broadway revival of Once Upon A Mattress starring Jackie Hoffman and John “Lypsinka” Epperson. He also performed as Abraham in the long-running hit musical Altar Boyz. In 2010 he created Broadway Up Close (www.BroadwayUpClose.com), a series of tours that share the history, ghost stories, and zany anecdotes from Broadway’s past and present. With their gift shop in the heart of Times Square and the iconic BROADWAY Sign, Broadway Up Close is now the number one highest rated Broadway experience outside of seeing a Broadway show!