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On_the_Town.jpgThis morning’s Times reviews the current revival of the musical On the Town, playing through the weekend at City Center as part of a city-wide celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 90th birthday. Originally on Broadway in 1944 — in the midst of the Second World War — the musical follows three American navy men through a 24-hour shore leave in the city. They are eager tourists, quick to orient themselves (“the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down”) and to make hot pursuit of the reigning Miss Turnstiles, whose picture is prominently displayed in the subway.

In the opening lecture of Writing New York we show a montage of film representations of the city, including a clip from the 1949 feature film adaptation of the musical. Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munchin play the sailors:

(Later in the semester we show the final sequence from Tim Burton’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which quotes the line about the Bronx and the Battery when Johnny Depp introduces Christina Ricci to a fabulously overdrawn 1800 New York.)

Considering this production as a WWII artifact (the current revival, like the wartime original, begins with the Star Spangled Banner) has me thinking, too, about the figure of the tourist in New York City literature. In lecture, I’ve often talked about the figure of the tour guide — the Virgilian character, the fl