Tour a Helluva Town: 14 Broadway Musicals With Locations You Can Actually Visit!

Special Features   Tour a Helluva Town: 14 Broadway Musicals With Locations You Can Actually Visit!
 
A visitor’s guide to real New York places mentioned in Broadway musicals.

Big Apple landmarks crop up as touchstones all over the storylines and stages of Broadway. Many of these places are long gone, especially in the older shows, but plenty still exist. And when you walk in the Theatre District, you’re following in the footsteps of the gods. This summer, take a stroll and step into a Broadway musical by checking out these locations the next time you are in town and make your own Broadway musical memories.

1. Guys and Dolls

Oliver Platt and Craig Bierko
Oliver Platt and Craig Bierko in Guys and Dolls Carol Rosegg

The script specifies that Sgt. Sarah’s Save-a-Soul Mission is located at 409 West 49th Street. Kids romp today in a playground at that approximate address. A key scene near the beginning of the musical is set in a bistro called “Mindy’s,” a reference to the longtime Times Square watering hole Lindy’s that used to stand at 1655 Broadway, between 49th and 50th Streets. It was a favorite hangout of author Damon Runyon, along with the gamblers and mobsters he wrote about. The original restaurant closed in 1969, but the name was revived a decade later, and a touristy eatery bearing the Lindy’s name now stands nearby at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 53rd Street, where it trades on its past with large photos of Guys and Dolls-era celebrities.

2. The Producers

Gary Beach, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Roger Bart
Gary Beach, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and Roger Bart in The Producers Paul Kolnik

Theatre-lovers cherish both the film and Broadway musical versions of The Producers, and both contain references to places in New York that are easy to visit, including the the rowboat scene on The Lake in Central Park in Central Park. Among the original film’s iconic moments are Gene Wilder’s transformation at the fountain in the plaza of Lincoln Center, shouting, “I want everything I’ve ever seen in the movies!” Watch it here. The plaza faces Ninth Avenue at about 64th Street, and many people run around the fountain recreating this scene. All the scenes inside the theatre where Springtime for Hitler is playing were shot at the old Playhouse Theatre, 137 West 48th Street, which was about to be torn down. A garage entrance and a Chipotle occupy the site today. Ah, but the scene where the theatre is blown up shows the exterior of the still-extant Cort Theatre, which was conveniently directly across the street when they were shooting. It is the Cort’s distinctive script marquee at 138 West 48th Street that goes up in smoke in that scene. The 2001 Broadway musical adaptation of The Producers sets its opening number, “Opening Night/The King of Broadway,” at the 225 West 44th Street entrance to the Shubert Theatre and the south end of Shubert Alley where the fictional musicalization of Hamlet, titled Funny Boy, is playing. Here’s the scene from the film version of the musical, which is obviously a set and a stylized version of the location. The Shubert Theatre logo can be glimpsed starting at 2:11. Watch the clip here.

3. Bullets Over Broadway

Heléne Yorke in <i>Bullets Over Broadway</i>
Heléne Yorke in Bullets Over Broadway Paul Kolnik

The original Woody Allen film was shot at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre on 44th Street near Sixth Avenue. The stage musical version doesn’t specify the theatre at which it takes place, but does specify that Cheech’s favorite place to whack his victims (and where he eventually plugs his boss’ girlfriend) is the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Allen shot several key scenes around Times Square in his other films, most memorably outside the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue in "Hannah and Her Sisters."

4. Wonderful Town

Edie-Adams-Rosalind-Russell.jpg
Edie Adams and Rosalind Russell in Wonderful Town

This cockeyed valentine to Greenwich Village opens with “Christopher Street,” a song that contains the refrain “Such interesting people live on Christopher Street!” Reputed to be the oldest thoroughfare in the Village, Christopher runs from Sixth Avenue to the West Side Highway, and includes the still-standing Stonewall Inn at number 53, site of the Stonewall Riots that launched the gay rights movement in 1969. Literally around the corner at 14 Gay Street, between Christopher and Waverly Place, is the building housing the basement apartment where author Ruth McKenny moved with her sister Eileen in the 1920s, eventually serving as inspiration for the play My Sister Eileen and this musical. The street-level windows depicted in the show as such a misery to the sisters are still (all-too) easily visible from the sidewalk today, behind a small wrought iron railing.

5. Hair

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Will Swenson and the cast of the Broadway revival of Hair Joan Marcus

The plaintive song “Frank Mills” opens with the lines “I met a boy named Frank Mills/ On September twelfth right here/ In front of the Waverly/ But unfortunately/ I lost his address.” His address may have been lost, but the Waverly—by which they meant the old Waverly movie theatre at 323 Sixth Avenue near Waverly Place—has been saved and reopened as the IFC Center. Much of the rest of the action of Hair takes place in a park modeled on Washington Square Park, located two blocks east of the IFC Center, on the far side of MacDougal Street. It still attracts artists, writers, and musicians.

6. If/Then

Idina Menzel adn the cast of If Then photo by Joan Marcus 0119r.jpg
Idina Menzel and the cast of If/Then Joan Marcus

Madison Square Park, the bucolic urban space where Liz/Beth’s timeline splits, sits on Madison Avenue between 23rd and 26th Streets.

7. Ragtime

The cast of the 2009 revival of Ragtime
The cast of the 2009 revival of Ragtime Joan Marcus

This musical is full of New York references, but two are especially notable: The song “The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square” refers to the plaza where Broadway crosses Park Avenue between 14th and 17th Streets. During the Civil War it served as the scene of rallies to celebrate the “Union” over the Confederacy. It later became associated with labor “union” rallies and fiery revolutionary speeches, such as Emma Goldman’s. It’s now a landscaped park that’s home to a farmer’s market each summer. Also in Ragtime, Coalhouse Walker barricades himself in the Morgan Library, threatening to blow it up if the men who destroyed his car are not delivered to him. The real-life library still looms at 225 Madison Avenue at East 36th Street, and is currently a museum.

8. Annie

The Company.jpg
The Company of Annie

On her first night in Daddy Warbucks’ Fifth Avenue mansion, Annie is invited to go see a movie at Radio City Music Hall. The 5,200-seat Depression-era movie palace still towers over the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 50th Street, though it’s now used for big concerts (and, typically, the Tony Awards) instead of films. However, the corps of precision dancers known as the Rockettes are still a part of the venue’s annual Christmas show.

9. On the Town

Clyde Alves, Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and the cast of Broadway's ON THE TOWN. Photo by Joan Marcus.jpg
Clyde Alves, Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and the cast of On The Town Joan Marcus

The Bronx (up)! The Battery (down)! Coney Island! So many New York landmarks are namedropped in in this 1944 musical about sailors on leave in the Big Apple. For our purposes, however, the centerpiece is the song “Come Up to My Place,” in which the randy lady taxi driver Hildy tries to lure the sailor Chip to her apartment for an afternoon of passion. Chip, however, is determined to go sightseeing. A crucial part of the joke is the fact that most of the places listed in Chip’s outdated guidebook were long gone, even in 1944. Most—but not all. The Hippodrome Theatre on Sixth Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets is now a parking garage of the same name. The long-running Tobacco Road was closed, but the playhouse where it played, the Forrest “The-a-tre,” was renamed the Eugene O’Neill in 1959, and is now home to another long-running hit, The Book of Mormon. Battery Park is still there at the lower end of Manhattan (named for the “battery” of cannon once housed there to protect the city from seaborne attack), but the New York Aquarium (which provided a rhyme for “so big I couldn’t carry ’em”) moved to the Bronx and then to Coney Island, Brooklyn. The Woolworth Tower still stands at Broadway and Barclay Street overlooking City Hall, but the tower has long since relinquished the top of Manhattan’s skyline to the Freedom Tower.

10. Gypsy

Patti LuPone in <i>Gypsy</i> on Broadway (2008)
Patti LuPone in Gypsy on Broadway (2008)

The action of this musical takes place in vaudeville and burlesque theatres across North America, but the sometimes-deleted Christmas a la Minsky scene is set at the grandest (if that’s the right word) burlesque house of all, New York’s Minsky’s Burlesque. The Minsky Brothers operated at several locations, but Gypsy is likely set at the former National Winter Garden at the southwest corner of Houston Street and Chrystie Street, which had a performing space awkwardly located on the sixth floor above Boris Thomashefsky’s National Theatre. Always seeking legitimacy, the Minskys moved their operation in 1931 to the heart of West 42nd Street at the old Republic Theatre, 209 West 42nd Street. That theatre has since been rechristened the New Victory and, ironically, specializes today in children’s entertainment.

11. Funny Girl/Ziegfeld Follies

Barbra Streisand in <i>Funny Girl </i>
Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl

Like several other shows on this list, the musical biography of comedienne Fanny Brice is set on New York’s Lower East Side—specifically in this case, on Henry Street, where she grew up among Jewish immigrants and saw her first live entertainment. Brice’s first Ziegfeld Follies was the 1910 edition, which performed at the Jardin de Paris, the roof garden of Oscar Hammerstein I’s theatre complex that once occupied 1514-16 Broadway. However, most editions of the Follies were staged at Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 West 42nd Street, which is now owned by Disney and houses Aladdin. Fans of the Funny Girl film also like to visit Battery Park at the southernmost end of Manhattan, where they can catch a glimpse of tugboats like the one Barbra Streisand uses to cross New York Harbor while singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade." You know you want to watch that clip again, so here it is.

12. Beautiful and Jersey Boys

A scene from <i>Beautiful</i>
A scene from Beautiful Joan Marcus

These two Broadway musicals both have key scenes that take place inside the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway at 49th Street, which has served as headquarters for dozens of music publishers. Many of them maintained offices there with pianos where composers like Carole King, Leiber & Stoller, Burt Bacharach and dozens of others wrote and first performed many of their chart-topping hits. The gilded Art Deco entrance is still there today and makes a great photo op.

13. Rent

The original Broadway cast of Rent.
The original Broadway cast of Rent. Joan Marcus

This musical is packed with references to 1990s life in Alphabet City, the section of Manhattan where the avenues have letters instead of numbers, just uptown from the Lower East Side, and just east of Greenwich Village. Fans of the film will want to note that the “La Vie Boheme” scene was shot partially on location at 7B Horseshoe Bar aka Vazacs, at 108 Avenue B, which stands in the film for the now-closed Life Café. But, the Café was actually on the other side of Tompkins Square Park at 343 E 10th Street. The whole area has gentrified extensively since the '90s, so there are few if any abandoned buildings full of colorful squatters anywhere near East 11th Street and Avenue A.

14. Hello, Dolly!

Jay Garner and Carol Channing in <i>Hello, Dolly!</i>
Jay Garner and Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! Joan Marcus

Set in the 1890s, this is another great New York musical whose locations are now mostly history. During this period midtown and upper Manhattan were still mainly suburban places gradually turning into city. City life centered around 14th Street. In “Before the Parade Passes By,” Dolly says, “I went away from the lights of 14th Street, and into my personal haze….” Mrs. Molloy’s millinery (hat) shop is on the thoroughfare, which is also the backdrop of the 14th Street Parade sequence. The Castle Garden show referred to in “Dancing” is a reference to a theatre that operated at the old Castle Clinton in Battery Park from 1824 until World War II. It was also the site of the New York Aquarium mentioned in On the Town. The model for the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, where galloping waiters sing the title song, was Luchow’s at 110 East 14th Street, a block from Union Square. This German-American feasting hall was considered the last word in epic Teutonic dining from 1882 to 1982. The building burned down in 1994 and the legendary site is now occupied by a nondescript Wells Fargo bank. Separately, Tony Pastor was one of the founders of the entertainment form that came to be known as Vaudeville. Pastor was connected with a number of different New York theatres, including “444,” located at 444 Broadway near Grand Street. Perhaps his best-known space, and the one likely referred to in the lyric “We’ll join the Astors at Tony Pastor’s” was likely Pastor’s Theatre on Union Square itself, at the old Germania Theatre next to Tammany Hall at 100 East 17th Street. Another restaurant mentioned in the show, Delmonico’s, was located at 2 South William Street, but is long gone. Fans of the Hello, Dolly! movie may want to travel 40 minutes north on the Hudson line of the Metro North commuter railroad to the Garrison station, which stood in for Yonkers when they shot the “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” sequence.

There is one show that with a whole list unto itself: Hamilton. CLICK HERE for information on sites to visit for the Alexander Hamilton experience.