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Radio City Music HallRCMH History| Rockettes| B-T-S

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RCMH History| Rockettes| B-T-S

HISTORY OF RADIO CTIY MUSIC HALL

Over 75 years ago, a curtain went up unlike any other in the world. Radio City Music Hall is an incredible national landmark that has been host to some of the greatest entertainers ever. Among the most famous are a line of high-kicking hoofers that have danced their way through history, The Rockettes. Suzanne learns more about Radio City Music Hall and how this showcase came to be.

John D. Rockefeller was one of the lucky few that didn’t suffer through the Great Depression. During the stock market crash of the ‘20s, Rockefeller made plans to build The Rockefeller Center. A city within a city, it was destined to include the largest indoor theatre in the world. The Rockefellers faced one problem – they knew nothing of theatre! Therefore, they brought in Roxy Rothafel to create the distinctive show theatre, “The Roxy,” with a very unique vision. Diane Jaust, Corporate Librarian, says that Roxy’s entire goal in life was to bring culture to the masses; he loved classical music, ballet and the opera. The interior spaces of “The Roxy” were designed by Donald Deskey, who wiped out his entire life savings to create an elaborate portfolio of the building. Deskey designed the magnificent 6,000 seat auditorium to look like a golden sunrise over the ocean, spanning 144 feet across with a hydraulic elevator system under the stage.

On opening night, December 27, 1931, the music hall was the hottest ticket in town for the 5-hour-long spectacle of the original Rockettes, The Roxyettes. Unfortunately, Roxy Rothafel suffered a heart attack the next day and, without his supervision, the music hall reverted to a movie and live-stage show. Upon Roxy’s return after being sick, he decided he wasn’t interested in the movie and live-stage show business and quit the project. In the ‘70s, the theatre fell onto hard times and almost closed, but was revived due to the “Save the Music Hall” movement. In 1978, the theatre was landmarked and transformed into the international music hall that Roxy first envisioned. In 1999, Radio City Music Hall underwent a 70-million-dollar restoration, courtesy of Cablevision. After the renovation was complete, the attendees at the opening gala claimed to have felt like they traveled back in time. Today, the hall continues to inspire every person that walks through its doors, even the employees. Every Radio City Music Hall Employee agrees that a bad day at Radio City is still better than a good day at any other place in the world!

THE ROCKETTES

Trademark precision and sky-high kicks define this group as a national treasure. The Rockettes are world-famous living legends that kicked their way onto the stage in 1925 as the Missouri Rockets. Suzanne finds out more about this incredible world-renowned dance group and their journey through showbiz.

Creating the Missouri Rockets was a dream for Russell Markert and shortly after the group came about, Roxy Rothafel discovered their talents. Roxy asked The Rockets to perform on stage opening night at Radio City Music Hall as “The Roxyettes,” and they have been dancing on stage ever since as “The Rockettes.” John Bonanni, Executive Producer of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, says that Russell created a new precision dance art form that became really popular around the world. Alumni Rockette, Jean Kettell Gable, explains that the requirements to be a Rockette are very specific with training in tap, ballet, jazz and “lots of kicks!” Every candidate must taller than 5 feet and 6 inches and shorter than 5 feet and 10 inches in order to create the precision look. Dancers from all over the country come to audition, and Gelsey Weiss Mahanes, an active Rockette, says there were 500 women at the audition, which lasted about 26 hours over 2 days. About 4 months later, the latest Rockettes were finally chosen and contacted with the very exciting news. 

The Rockettes are special for many reasons, but their choreography makes them standout in the entertainment industry. Although the choreography is grueling, it is very satisfying in the end, with an overall basic pattern of very precise movements. The Rockettes perform roughly 32 shows a week with about 1,200 kicks a day. It’s no wonder their kicks are world famous! The Rockettes’ dazzling costumes are another trademark. Barbara Van Zandt, Rockette Wardobe Supervisor, tells Suzanne that a designer starts off by making sketches of his vision with input from the producer. The designer follows up his sketches with a visit to costume shops, where they make a mock costume. The costumes have evolved through the years to allow The Rockettes to move better, since the dancing has grown to be more athletic than fluid. So, what exactly does it mean to be a Rockette? Rockettes Jean Kettell Gable and Gelsey Weiss Mahanes explain that being a Rockette is being part of a legend, an honor, a sisterhood and that there is nothing else like it. 

RCMH CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR

There are three things that define Christmas in New York City: shopping, skating at Rockefeller Center and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular! Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular gets bigger and better every year, and this was especially true for their 75th anniversary. Suzanne takes us on a “backstage pass” tour to learn more about Radio City’s amazing and forever-evolving Christmas Spectacular. 

The Christmas Spectacular began in 1933 as a variety show with a Christmas adaptation. The original Christmas Spectacular numbers were the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and the “Living Nativity,” which have evolved and are still being used today. Executive Producer, John Bonnani, says that the planning for each year’s performance begins on December 26th of the previous year by looking at their current shows and brainstorming ideas for the next year. The planning crew takes the basic characteristics of their strengths from their standard show and applies them to the Christmas theme. The Rockettes begin to rehearse for the Christmas Spectacular two months in advance, many times with workshops leading up to the rehearsals. The sets are created by taking Radio City’s uniquely large stage and trying to develop and modernize the entire view with an LED lighting screen. Current Rockette, Gelsey Weiss Mahanes, says that the Christmas Spectacular’s 75th anniversary show features new additions including fireworks, double-decker buses and real snow. Behind the scenes, there is an air of excitement with 400 employees working feverishly. Bonnani says that backstage is “a show in and of itself” – it can be dangerous, but it’s exciting and there is a lot going on to make sure everything runs smoothly. After September 11th, security at the hall was ramped up to insure the safety of all. The entire process for the viewer– from entrance to exit – is completely choreographed, which is necessary with an audience of 6,000 people for 4 or 5 shows a day. 

The Christmas Spectacular is unique because it spans generations; many grandparents recall memories of taking their children and their grandchildren to the show. Jean Kettell, former Rockette, says that she has fond memories of the Christmas shows because of the feeling of being away from home hearing the Christmas music and dancing the Christmas dances. Bonnani tells Suzanne that he hopes the Christmas Spectacular becomes the “Christmas present” for audiences – the one event that truly makes it feel like the holiday season. 


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