Musicals are intimately connected with New York City. Though many Broadway shows are set in far off places or fantastic lands, many have been set here, in our own backyard. Beginning with On the Town, some of these New York set musicals have used the City to provide a realistic backdrop to their filmed versions.
12. On the Town
On the Town premiered as a Broadway musical in 1944. In 1949, the musical by Leonard Bernstein and Comden and Greenwas adapted into a movie.The film stars Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Mushin as three sailors on leave in New York City. On the Town was the first musical to be filmed on location and not in a Hollywood backlot.
However, it recently came to light that only the beginning and end of the film were actually shot in New York City. Some of the New York City scenes include: the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Brooklyn Bridge, outside the New York Stock Exchange, a platform form the Third Avenue elevated subway line, Washington Square Park, Grant’s Tomb, Central Park, and Rockefeller Center. The site that appears to have changed the most since filming is definitely Columbus Circle.
11. West Side Story
West Side Story was created by Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Stephen Sondheim in 1957. The original Broadway production was well received and won multiple Tonys. In 1961, West Side Story was made into a movie starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer. The movie was famously filmed in New York City’s San Juan Hill, shortly before its demolition. San Juan Hill, located in the present day area of Lincoln Center, was home to the majority of the black population in city at the end of the 19th century, who had migrated north from Five Points to the Tenderloin and up through Hell’s Kitchen.
In the 1940s, the neighborhood was deemed by NYCHA to be the worst slum in all of New York City, despite its reputation as the city’s destination for jazz. With the financial and political backing of John D. Rockefeller, the neighborhood was demolished and replaced by Lincoln Center.
10. The Last Five Years
The Last Five Years was written by Jason Robert Brown and to date, has not made it to Broadway (it has played Off-Broadway twice). The musical was adapted into a movie in 2014 starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. This musical is often overlooked despite the incredible songs, which will tug at your heartstrings. The movie was filmed in DUMBO and Red Hook as well as Staten Island and Manhattan. Much of the drama is centered around Cathy’s (Anna Kendrick’s) apartment at 125 West 119th Street and Lenox Avenue.
9. The Producers
The Producers began as a Mel Brooks film in 1968 starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. For many, this version of the film cannot be beat. However, in 2001, the movie was adapted into a musical staring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, which won 12 Tonys. Its popularity resulted in a new version of the film replete with the songs from the musical. Viewers will easily recognize Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace and Mall, the Plaza Hotel, and Rockefeller Center, amongst other New York City settings.
Hair, or officially Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, was originally staged at the Public Theater in 1967. The musical pushed the boundaries with its songs about race, drugs, and sex. In 1979, the musical was transformed into a movie, with some songs dropped and more story added.
The film is notable for showing Central Park in its dark ages. The Mall and Bethesda Terrace can be seen heavily damaged and strewn with garbage and the Sheep Meadow has some patches of grass in between large swaths of dirt as they appear in the Central Park Conservancy’s before images.
Rent was another groundbreaking musical created by Jonathan Larson. The musical is based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme and is set in Alphabet City during the AIDS epidemic. The Pulitzer and Tony Awards winning play was adapted into a movie in 2005. Though set in New York City, only a few exterior shots were filmed in New York City including at Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar, 108 East 7th Street (which also appears as a prominent film location in Jessica Jones).
6. Hello, Dolly!
Based on Thorton Wilder’s 1955 play The Watchmaker, Hello, Dolly! the musical starring Carol Channing opened on Broadway in January 1964 at the St. James Theatre. The musical won a then-record breaking 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical. The story follows Dolly Levi, a famous matchmaker, who sets out to find a husband for a rich Horace Vandergelder. The show is set in Yonkers and New York City.
In 1969, Hello, Dolly! was made into a film with Barbra Streisand cast in the title role, along with Walter Matthau. Although most of the film was actually shot in the backlots and stages at 20th Century Fox studios in Los Angeles, a few scenes were filmed in the New York area, including Poughkeepsie, Garrison, and Cold Spring. Interestingly enough, a few scenes were also filmed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and US Military Academy at West Point.
5. A Chorus Line
After showing a few times Off-Broadway, A Chorus Line the musical, scored by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, and directed by Michael Bennett, premiered on Broadway on July 25, 1975. Set in the 1970s in New York City, the show follows a group of dancers as they audition for a part in a new show in front of a demanding director. The musical was an unprecedented success, winning nine Tony Awards and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Today, it remains the 6th longest-running Broadway show ever.
2014 “Annie” reboot.
The original 1977 Broadway production scored by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin is about the little, orphan girl Annie in the 1930s. Since then, the musical that sang about “Tomorrow” and how “It’s a Hard Knock Life” became so popular that not one, but two movies were made. The first Annie was filmed in 1982 with locations split between the studios in Los Angeles to various sites in New Jersey and New York, including the interior of Radio City Music Hall. In 2014, a reboot of the film starring Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis was shot entirely in New York, in places like the Beacon Theater and 4 World Trade Center.
3. Funny Girl
The Jule Styne and Bob Merrill musical Funny Girl opened on Broadway in 1963. Set in New York just before and right after World War I, the story follows Fanny Brice, a Ziegfeld Follies star as she reflects on her career and personal life. Barbra Streisand who played Fanny in the stage production, repeated the role in the 1968 film adaptation. The movie was filmed on location in New York at sites like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Liberty Island along with being filmed in parts of New Jersey and the studios in Los Angeles.
2. Saturday Night Fever
Like Thoroughly Modern Millie, Saturday Night Fever was first a movie released in 1977, and was adapted into a musical in 1999. We’re all pretty familiar with the movie set in the disco era, as a young John Travolta dances to the Bee Gees exploring the subcultures of disco in the era. The film was shot on location all over New York, from Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, and Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, to parts of Manhattan and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. For more check out our film locations for Saturday Night Fever.
1. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Inspired by a book by Abe Burrows of the same name, the original 1961 musical composed by Frank Loesser has been recently popular after a Broadway revival in 2011-2012 starring Daniel Radcliffe and, later Nick Jonas. Set in New York, the show is about J. Pierrepont Finch, a wind0w washer, who after reading the book “How To Succeed” follows the advice being given to him by the book’s “voice” on how to succeed in business without really trying.
The musical was a big success winning multiple Tony Awards and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was revived several times. The success launched a film adaptation released in 1967 starring Robert Morse, Michele Lee, and Rudy Vallee. While a lot of the movie was also filmed in Samuel Goldywin Studios in Hollywood, California, there were some shots that were done in New York at 270 Park Avenue, Manhattan.
Next, check out the 17 Historical Theaters in NYC’s Times Square.