For more than a century, Broadway musicals have been among pop culture’s most reliable sources of great songs. Given their showbiz subjects and where their creators live, some of the most popular show tunes have been about New York itself. From “Give My Regards to Broadway,” in 1904’s Little Johnny Jones, all the way up to “The Schuyler Sisters,” in the current megahit Hamilton, NYC has inspired countless songwriters working their musical magic in the City’s famed Theatre District. Through memorable melodies and evocative lyrics, they provide a virtual tour of the town, spotlighting everything NYC—the Empire State Building up high, the crowds and yellow cabs at street level, even the subway below.
Here’s a compilation of some of our favorite show tunes about New York City—think of it as NYC! The Broadway Musical! See how many of the songs you know, and let us know if we missed any of your personal faves by tweeting @nycgo.
1. “N.Y.C.,” from Annie
This blockbuster dance number from 1977’s Annie takes the little redheaded orphan on a grand tour of all the metropolis has to offer, courtesy of a bald billionaire known as Daddy Warbucks.
Most New York lyric: “You crowd / You cramp / You’re still / The champ / Amen for NYC!”
2. “New York, New York,” from On the Town
Three sailors, 24 hours, one city—Leonard Bernstein’s first Broadway musical, On The Town (1954), kicks off with this rousing clarion call as a group of Navy boys hit New York on shore leave for one memorable day.
Most New York lyric: “The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down / The people ride in a hole in the ground”
3. “42nd Street,” from 42nd Street
Few streets get their own hit song, let alone their own film and Broadway musical. Yet New York’s bustling Midtown thoroughfare got the full treatment, starting with Busby Berkeley’s 1933 movie. In 1980, legendary producer and impresario David Merrick adapted the film into a long-running stage show.
Most New York lyric: “Come and meet those dancing feet / On the avenue I’m taking you to / 42nd Street”
4. “Give My Regards to Broadway,” from George M!
Originally written for a 1904 musical called Little Johnny Jones, George M. Cohan’s Tin Pan Alley masterwork is another favorite street song. It got a curtain call in a 1968 production about the composer’s life.
Most New York lyric: “When you’re at the Waldorf, have a smile / And charge it up to me”
5. “La Vie Bohème,” from Rent
Sung in the East Village’s Life Café—and packed with references to downtown New Yorkers like Lenny Bruce, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan—this profane paean to all things outré is composer Jonathan Larson’s homage to “I Got Life,” from another New York–based musical: Hair.
Most New York lyric: “To riding your bike / Midday past the three-piece suits / To fruits / To no absolutes / To Absolut / To choice / To the Village Voice”
6. “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” from Hello, Dolly!
While Hello, Dolly! starts in Yonkers, this showstopping dance number (a highlight of the current production) takes place during a weekend stroll around New York City. The lyrics namecheck all the naughty nineties (that’s 1890s) hot spots—like extravagant restaurant-nightclub Delmonico’s (still open in 2018) and one of the original vaudeville houses, Tony Pastor’s.
Most New York lyric: “We'll see the shows at Delmonico’s / And we'll close the town in a whirl / And we won't come home until we've kissed a girl!”
7. “Skid Row (Downtown),” from Little Shop of Horrors
From the cult hit based on a 1960s comedy film that debuted as an Off-Broadway musical in the East Village in 1982 and made it to Broadway in 2003 (with a 1986 film adaptation of the Off-Broadway production in between!), this song’s notion of downtown as skid row may be a bit out of date these days—see: million-dollar condos on the Bowery—but it remains a classic, pulsating anthem about striving toward your dreams against all odds.
Most New York lyric: “Uptown you cater to a million jerks / Uptown you’re messengers and mailroom clerks”
8. “Christopher Street,” from Wonderful Town
“Christopher Street” is the opener to another Bernstein musical, this one based on a popular collection of short stories about two Ohio sisters making their way in NYC. The song takes listeners on a tour of “the Village,” highlighting the poets, artists and local eccentrics living there in the 1950s.
Most New York lyric: “My, what trees / Smell that air / Painters and pigeons in Washington Square”
9. “The Schuyler Sisters,” from Hamilton
Angelica, Eliza and Peggy—the daughters of New York’s first senator—make quite an entrance in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2015 musical. The song, a mix of rap and Broadway belting, follows its eponymous young society ladies as they scope out the City’s revolutionary scene.
Most New York lyric: “History is happening in Manhattan / And we just happen to be / In the greatest city in the world”
10. “Frank Mills,” from Hair
A beautiful ballad, this Greenwich Village–set song tells the story of a young hippie girl who longs for a Brooklyn boy she met outside the Waverly Theater (now the IFC Center) on Sixth Avenue, ending with a plea for her suitor to find her in Washington Square Park. Consider it a Craiglist Missed Connection of its day.
Most New York lyric: “I met a boy called Frank Mills / On September 12th, right here In front of the Waverly”
11. “King of New York,” from Newsies
From a show that started as a flop 1992 Disney movie and improbably ended up on Broadway 20 years later, this signature number celebrates turn-of-the-century NYC newsboys who make their own headlines when they go on strike. There’s a lot of dancing, too.
Most New York lyric: “Ya don’t need money when you’re famous / They gives ya whatever you want gratis / A pair of new shoes with matchin’ laces / A permanent box at the Sheepshead races”
12. “Opening Doors,” from Merrily We Roll Along
Sung by three young, hungry artistic strivers making their way on Broadway in the 1950s, this intricate story song is a summary of their hopes, dreams and fears—with an insistent beat and uplifting end. The semiautobiographical Sondheim song may not be a standard, but it’s a favorite among theater folks.
Most New York lyric: “I saw My Fair Lady / I sort of enjoyed it” (Now playing at Lincoln Center!)