New York City has always inspired people to create, whether they were writing, painting, or bursting into song and dance. From the glittering lights of theater stages to the dirty streets downtown, it’s beyond doubt that the five boroughs have been filled with music on film. Here are seven of the best set in the city that never sleeps.
Lights! Camera! Kick! Once Annie rolls up to Radio City Music Hall in Daddy Warbucks’ chauffeur-driven car, she is greeted by a chorus line of flashlight wielding ushers, the Rockettes in shimmering silver dresses, and the entirety of Radio City’s grand theatre at her disposal. The glitz, glamour and extravagance of the music hall is on full display as Annie dances down the aisle in wonder with her dog, Sandy, in tow. Just goes to show, ‘anything you can imagine’ happens at the movies.
For over 100 years FAO Schwarz toy stores have operated in various locations around Manhattan; their flagship store was located on the illustrious Fifth Avenue. It was at that location where Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia performed an endearing ‘Heart and Soul’ duet and a show-stopping rendition of ‘Chopsticks’ on the giant floor piano as a crowd of onlookers formed. Sadly, tourists and Manhattanites no longer have the opportunity to dance out their own tunes, since the Fifth Avenue location closed in July of 2015. However, there is a chance a new location may open up somewhere else in the city in the future.
What can happen in one day in New York” Well, in just the opening number of On the Town Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Jules Munshin, three sailors on leave in Manhattan for only 24 hours, hit a bunch of New York hot spots. While singing ‘New York, New York,’ the guys take in sights like The Statue of Liberty, Washington Square Park, Rockefeller Center and Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park. Within the first ten minutes of On the Town viewers get sweeping tour of New York City, ‘a wonderful town,’ in 1949. If you ever lose your way, just remember, the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.
Following the lives of eight Bohemians dealing with AIDS, who struggle to pay rent and face other issues, Rent musically showcases the grittier side of New York City’s East Village. The entire film boast wide shots of the downtown skyline, graffiti splattered subway cars, and fire escape crowded alleyways, but the most ‘New York’ centric scene occurs during Rent’s most recognizable song, ‘Seasons of Love.’ As that memorable tune starts to play footage (presumably from the camera of one of the film’s characters) of New York starts with a shot of the Empire State building, a partially scraped away ‘I Love NY’ sign, a street sign from Avenue A and 11th Street, and then footage of what makes the city special: the unique and diverse people who live there.
In the opening scene of West Side Story, tensions and kicks run high. Viewers are treated to a tour of Manhattan’s West Side, as it was in the mid 1950s, by two rival gangs, the finger-snapping Jets and Sharks. In one of the only scenes that was actually shot on location in New York, you get a feel for the blue collar neighborhood as the Jets twirl down streets lined with cars and graffiti-marked brick walls and hop the chain-link fences of playgrounds, and the Sharks leap past apartment complexes and rumble in rubble piles at the base of high rises. After an urban renewal project and the construction of Lincoln Center, today’s West Side may be a little different than where Tony and Maria first fell in love, but this musical scene captures a moment in New York’s social history.
Saturday Night Fever, ‘You Should be Dancing’ (1977)
Disco ball spinning, Bee Gees playing, white polyester bell bottoms on. It’s Saturday night and John Travolta’s Tony Manero is ready to hit the dance floor. Saturday Night Fever features many Manhattan and Brooklyn locales as Travolta struts his stuff down the street, but it’s what he left on the dance floor that people remember. Bringing disco dance culture into the mainstream, Travolta gave it his all in a solo dance to the Bee Gees ‘You Should be Dancing’ on the multi-colored light up dance floor of the 2001 Odyssey dance club in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. This club, along with many like it, has since been closed. Though disco may be dead, this scene will live on in cultural memory.
Barbra Streisand stars in an Oscar-winning performance as the precocious Ziegfeld girl Fanny Brice. While the entire film is set in New York around World War I, most of the film was shot on sets in California. However, arguably the most popular song from the film was shot at the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Jersey City terminal and New York Harbor. After Streisand makes her way through the dreary railroad station in her vibrant orange dress and finally makes it to New York the viewer is treated to a lovely view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges as she runs onto the dock to catch a tugboat. What follows in the film is an impressive helicopter shot which provides a striking view of the entire Statue of Liberty, as the tugboat carrying Streisand passes by and she belts out the final note of the song.