New York City and the glittering lights of Broadway - the images go hand-in-hand in people's minds. Get all the insider info on the Great White Way from someone who's spent time on those hallowed stages.

There's a reason New York, New York conjures a tune - New York City is the beating heart of America's art form, musical theatre.

Any day of the week, you can see a mind-blowing array of new shows or classic revivals. You can whistle a show tune while strolling down 42nd Street, shop for vintage playbills down an alley, maybe spot a star. Or you could pick up a copy of Backstage from a news-stand, read the open call notices and dream big (those iconic New York news-stands risk becoming endangered).

The New York Music Theatre Festival, running across September and October since 2004, cements New York City as the definitive musical incubator. Dubbed the 'Sundance of musicals', NYMF is a premiere international event, drawing artists and audiences from across the globe to its showcase of new productions and hot talent. But extreme musical theatre fans will trip to New York all year round, solely to see a production before the rest of the world. It's like a badge of honour (if it closes in a week, you'll be among the lucky few).

Growing up a world away from Times Square, I got to know the heart and soul of New York through shows that sang its quirks - On the Town, West Side Story, A Chorus Line, RENT, and countless others. And I could only resist the pull of New York for so long. For as the city compels song, the music compels travel and I packed up to learn the trade and do my time on the boards. I don't live there anymore but I head back and dip in when I can. Personal temptations include the upcoming U2 Spiderman musical, a tap class or two with the best in the biz, and rummaging for sheet music and soundtracks at the iconic Colony.

Speaking of shopping, there's nowhere better to shop musicals than in NYC. Theatre Circle is an atmospheric treasure trove of Broadway-related goodies. You may never leave The Drama Book Shop at 40th and 8th. And if you're there in September, don't miss the annual Shubert Alley Flea Market in support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. You can snare collectibles and ask one of the many stars in attendance to sign them for you.

Times Square may be the famous postcard centre of New York musicals, with its subway rattle soundtrack and sizzling neon backdrop, but you'll see evidence of the city's musical DNA wherever you go. Posters on every taxi and bus, sandwiches named after Broadway stars, hoofers in the subway, performers humming as they head to auditions up, down and cross-town.

As one of the characters in my favourite musical, Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, sings: 'Who wants to live in New York? Who wants the worry the noise, the dirt, the heat? Who wants the garbage cans clanging in the street? Suddenly, I do!'

Got the Broadway bug? Get the New York City Guide and go!

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