The scene opens in the hustle and bustle of Times Square, New York City, where people of all walks of life – from elderly street vendors to young teenage bobby-soxers to a blind beggar to a cameraman to Texan tourists to hookers - cross paths, showing the diversity of the place New Yorkers call home (“Runyonland”). Amongst them are three good-for-nothing gamblers: Benny Southstreet, Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and Rusty Charlie, who are all placing bets on the daily horse races. Each man is convinced that he has the “horse right here” (“Fugue for Tinhorns”). Just as the gamblers wrap up their pitch, they encounter Sergeant Sarah Brown and the Save-a-Soul Mission Band, playing Evangelistic music in the hopes of inspiring the degenerate souls of New York to cease their straying and come back into the fold, with Christ as their shepherd (“Follow the Fold”).
Nicely-Nicely takes notice of pretty, fresh-faced Sarah as she starts in on her sermon, condemning New York as “the Devil’s Own City,” but he and Benny conclude that Sarah’s good looks are wasted on mission work. They appreciate the pretty face, but entirely ignore the message. After all, they conclude, being good doesn’t pay. Just then, Harry the Horse joins the gamblers, explaining that he is looking for a crap game on this evening in particular, because he just