When Tony’s Di Napoli first opened smack in the middle of Times Square on 43rd Street over a decade ago, Director of Operations Bruce Dimpflmaier wanted to find a way to connect to the Broadway community that surrounded the Italian eatery. He immediately got involved with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, supplying free catering for some of their events—a partnership that continues to this day.
But Dimpflmaier still wanted to do more.
He teamed up with a server of his, theatre enthusiast Dale Badway, and decided to display artwork honoring the shows and celebrities of the theatre community on a Wall of Fame.
Then, Tony’s bartender Dan May mentioned he was an artist. A graduate of Syracuse University, May had been pursuing art since undergrad while mixing drinks on the side. Dimpflmaier had found his painter, and he found his first subject in the legendary Chita Rivera, who, at the time, was enjoying double billing as a frequent customer at Tony’s and as Lilliane La Fleur in Nine.
(After Badway’s departure, radio personality Valerie Smaldone, a regular at Tony’s and host to lucky listeners who had won a night out to dinner and a Broadway show, teamed up with Dimpflmaier to host parties in honor of a Wall of Fame.)
The old-school restaurateur runs his establishment according to a philosophy of generosity and personal attention, so it’s no wonder Broadway greats became regular diners and, consequently, inspired the art. “There are some people who ate their way up there,” jokes Dimpflmaier.
“Daniel Radcliffe was eating here, so obviously that was an opportunity,” Dimpflmaier notes, gazing up at the portrait of the Harry Potter star turned Equus leading man.
“John Cariani, who was in Fiddler [on the Roof] with Alfred [Molina] was here all the time,” says Dimpflmaier. (Molina earned his portrait in 2004, a mashup of Spiderman’s Doc Oc and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.) “John came with his family, anytime he had people in town, and we honored him finally for Something Rotten!.”
Though all painted by May, no two paintings feel alike. “I research each performer and show and try to capture an overall feeling or mood of the show—if we’re honoring the [full] cast—or essence of the individual performer,” he says. Now settled in Colorado, May completes extensive photo research and reading to complete each commission.
On September 19, the Tony’s Di Napoli family welcomes one more piece for The Play That Goes Wrong. “It’s packed with details!” says May. The restaurant will unveil the painting in its traditional private celebration—complete with family-style Italian fare. Like the theatre that inspires the Wall, mounting a new portrait is a production—which is why Tony’s only commissions two to three new pieces per year.
Fifteen years and counting, the collection now boasts over 60 original paintings of actors, and signed prints of the portraits are always donated to Broadway Cares for collectors. When asked which is his favorite portrait he’s done, May can’t choose. “It has honestly been a while since I have gone back over all of the portraits,” he says. “We have two young children now, so traveling to the city is a little ways away for us; needless to say, it will be fun to take them back there one day soon and look back over all of the portraits!”