When Tim Alex was a toddler he played at his mother’s feet while she rehearsed her latest musical for Hamilton Theatre Inc.
We didn’t know it then, but he was headed for Broadway and the New York theatre. He credits his mother, HTI star, Marilyn Alex, with how he got there.
A song and dance man has a short shelf-life, but at 56, Alex is still in New York and still involved with show business.
Those who knew him from the big Toronto shows he was in, including “Cats,” right across Canada and at Toronto’s Massey Hall in 1988: “A Chorus Line,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Fosse,” “Ragtime” and “Joseph,” will remember the way he lit up a stage.
“Growing up in Hamilton gave me the freedom to experiment, to be part of whatever was going on. HTI’s old headquarters on Head Street was my playground. Whether it was poking around in the costumes, playing with props, or watching scenery being laid out and painted, it was a wonderland. My mother taught me to always watch others work and learn from their process.”
The first show Alex did was HTI’s “Gypsy” in 1974 at Mohawk College: “I was 10 and my mom was the star. Just being part of that show gave me the gift of being part of something fun.”
Tim Alex’s first performance was in 1974 in Hamilton Theatre Inc.’s ‘Gypsy’ at Mohawk College. He was 10. His mom was the star.
Alex believes performing gave him a strong sense of self and confidence.
“I’ll carry that with me through my entire life. How to interact with people and how not to fear being in the world are so important.”
“In November 1998, I moved to New York City, when I booked the role of Frederick in the National Tour of ‘Titanic, The Musical.’ I had never thought of leaving Canada, but it suddenly seemed the natural thing to do. Of course, I didn’t know if I could make it in New York. It was a ballsy move on my part, with no guarantees. I would say my biggest learning experience is that even if something is scary, do it anyway. It’s part of your life journey. You don’t want any regrets at the end of the road.”
Alex is philosophical about how his journey is playing out.
“Not everything comes your way and you have to ‘chin-up’ and keep on going, even when you want to chuck it all in. The downtimes between jobs can be challenging. The mental space of not knowing what is next is very hard. This life truly isn’t for everyone. It can take quite a toll.”
Alex appeared in 13 shows on Broadway, from “Chicago” in 2001 to “Motown, The Musical.” He was in big flops like “Thou Shalt Not” directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. And big hits like “Man of La Mancha” with Brian Stokes Mitchell.
He has a favourite.
“Being a ‘Triple Threat’ (actor, singer, dancer) has given me varied and diverse Broadway experiences. Each show has a special place in my heart, but I will say ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ in 2005 had standout moments. My mom and my Aunt Barb came down to see it. And it had the best cast led by the incomparable John Lithgow.”
But then, his mother, his star, died in a car crash on Dec. 8, 2006.
“When I lost my mom suddenly that December night it was a devastating moment. From her death in that accident I was able to discover life had to be lived to its fullest. And that I couldn’t wait any longer. I call my mom’s death The Tragic Blessing,” he says.
“I found my sobriety a few months after her death. I found new courage to live larger than I had before. Through therapy, I learned to celebrate mom’s life, not to reduce it to her untimely death. Now, I celebrate every day and I do it with the energy my mom had for her life.”
Today, he feels he reached his potential as a performer.
“So far, I’ve done everything that has come my way. Now, I look forward to saying yes to new adventures that I haven’t even thought of. A friend once said, ‘Isn’t it amazing that your life isn’t limited by your own imagination? Wouldn’t it be unfortunate if it was limited to only things we could think of?’”
And, he continues to experiment, finding new challenges.
“You can always teach an old dog new tricks,” he says. I was accepted into the Scenic Artists’ program in 2018 and am working on my second TV/film gig this year.”
A film Alex worked on in the scenic department, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” would have premiered at Toronto’s TIFF, but its release was postponed due to COVID-19. Expect it in theatres soon.
Written by: Gary Smith for The Hamilton Spectator