30 Fun Facts About The Christmas Spectacular
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – it’s Christmas in New York City!
Sure, New York is one of the most happening places to be throughout the year, but during the winters and especially in the holiday season, it’s full of magic. The Big Apple offers a lot of attractions – ice skating in the Central Park, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and of course, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Running successfully for more than eight decades, The Christmas Spectacular has become a holiday tradition for all. Embraced and enjoyed by generations, it captures the joyous spirit of the holiday season and each year witnesses an attendance of over two million! What makes this Christmas extravaganza so special? In its 84th year, The Christmas Spectacular manages to return each year with renewed passion and boundless energy by the performers. The beloved Rockettes are ready to kickoff the 2016 season and will set the Radio City Music Hall on fire with their unmistakable spirit.
Maintaining a strong element of tradition, the spectacle continues to add something fresh and exciting to the act. Here’s a closer look at the entertainment company’s history and some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits.
- A big thank you to the choreographer Russell Markert. The founder and longtime director of the Rockettes, Markert formed the famous dance troupe in 1925. He remained with the company till his retirement in 1971 and died in 1990, at the age of 91. Besides being the chief choreographer of the Rockettes, Russell Markert was also an inherent father figure and the image-preserver of the group. He put together a classy and a glamorous chorus line that treated the audience to amazing precision, flair and great style.
- A loud shout-out to The Tiller Girls. Russell Markert’s idea of the Rockettes was originally inspired from the British precision dance troupe, The Tiller Girls. Their founder John Tiller introduced them in Ziegfeld Follies 1922 production and just like the countless others, Russell was also blown away. He dreamed of starting an American analogue, only they will be much taller, have long legs and land eye-high kicks. He managed all that along with really complicated and elaborate routines.
- The legacy of the infamous Rockettes goes back to St. Louis. The iconic dance troupe hit the stage for the first time in 1925 as the “Missouri Rockets”. Just like Russell Markert had predicted, their high-flying kicks knocked the audience’s socks off.
- The sweet smell of success – it all began on Broadway. Following their debut performance in St. Louis, the same year (1925) the Missouri Rockets headed to New York and performed in a Broadway musical Rain or Shine. They caught the attention of a showman S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel, who all but pleaded with Russell to form another lineup to replace the departing Rockets. His persuasion led to three separate groups of dancers that performed in New York and the Missouri Rockets became the Rockettes.
- The Rockettes officially kicked up their shoes in 1932. On December 27, the Radio City Music Hall rolled out the red carpet for these phenomenal performers. The inaugural event was called the “hottest ticket in town” with more than 100,000 fans requesting permission to attend. But at that time only 6,200 could be entertained.
- Height does matter – if you want to be a Rockette. Initially when the Rockettes started performing they had to be between 5’2″and 5’6 ½″. The bar has been raised today and all the dancers now have to be between 5’6″and 5’10 ½″. And besides the height requirement, they also have to be proficient in various dance styles including jazz, tap, contemporary and ballet.
- More on height. During performances, the tallest Rockette is positioned in the middle and the shorter Rockettes towards the outer ends. An optical illusion is created and it seems like they are all of the same height. Through this placement ultimate uniformity and absolute precision in the movements of the dancers is created.
- All the hard work that goes into becoming a Rockette. It’s not easy being a Rockette. Around 300 high kicks are performed in a single show that comes with 7 hours of practice each day and six days a week rehearsal schedule. During the holiday season the Rockettes perform daily around 5 to 6 shows, each show lasting for 90 minutes.
- The famous 1967 strike. It’s both emotionally and physically demanding to be a Rockette, so in 1967 the graceful ladies picketed outside the Radio City in the Rockefeller Center, rallying for better pay and benefits. The negotiations lasted for 27 days, after which the dancers won the standoff – just in time for the holiday shows.
- In its 84th year, the show still reprises its two iconic sequences. “The Parade of Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity” have been part of Radio City’s holiday tradition since 1933.
- Season of kicks and carol spruced up with “The 12 Days of Christmas”. The track was added to the song-list in 2006 and it came with some incredible stage shenanigans. A new accessory was added to the Rockettes’ costume – a wireless tap shoe mic. The customized microphone transmitter was designed specifically to capture the unique tap-dance sound that the Radio City Rockettes are most famous for.
- The intense costume changes happen under 78 seconds. Each performer has to change costume eight times in a single show and it all takes place on the stage. While the Rockettes are performing on the double decker bus in their soldier outfits, they get around 78 seconds to prepare for the ‘New York at Christmas’ segment. In the wings on the stage, they change their shoes and pants, put on red and green sequined dress and jacket, and accessorize with earrings, gloves and hat. Incredible!
- The Rockettes sure have the class but their costumes have the allure. Some of the top American designers deserve credit for bringing glamour into The Christmas Spectacular. The “sultan of sequins”, Bob Mackie designed the famous Dancing in Diamonds Costume for the Rockettes that featured on the Music Hall’s 50th Anniversary segment called ‘Encore’.
- 84 years of dazzling costumes. The iconic numbers, “March of the Wooden Soldiers” and “Living Nativity” have remained a part of The Christmas Spectacular since its inception. The legendary film director Vincente Minnelli designed the soldier costumes. Did you know that each of the white pants that these soldiers wear are so heavily starched that they stand up on their own?
- More on the costumes. The Christmas Spectacular has time and again added more acts into the show to keep the freshness alive. Many dance numbers and costumes were changed to reflect the current events and latest themes. In the 60s, just when the US was stepping into the space age, the Rockettes wore astronaut costumes. Here’s a glimpse.
- The Rockettes upped the game with 3D animation. Building upon their legacy in this evolving theater world, the show revamped the “Sleighride” act by incorporating 3D animation into it. It’s quite thrilling to see Santa Claus flying to Manhattan on his reindeer-powered sleigh. Don’t forget to wear your 3D glasses for the full effect.
- Say hello to the four-legged celebrities. Live animals including sheep, camels and donkeys are a part of the “Living Nativity” number. During the show’s run, they live backstage at the Radio City Music Hall and have a handler taking care of them. This star lineup includes six sheep, three camels, two donkeys and one horse.
- Ted the camel. The 14-year old camel has quite a prima donna attitude. He’s considered a star above all the others and even gets to go home in between the shows to ‘catch a break’.
- Do you know what dangles on top of the Rockettes when they are in the middle of intricate dancing and costume changes? A giant, 7 ton double-decker bus! Used in the “New York at Christmas” scene, the bus is 34 feet long and up to 12 feet high. In an 8-week production run, it approximately travels 37 miles onstage. The bus is stored 23 feet in the air when not in use.
- Unlike Ted the camel, the Rockettes don’t have prima donna attitude. These self-sufficient ladies do their own makeup, help each other with the costumes and even fix their hair themselves. They wear signature red lipstick from a single brand that has a blue-based tone. It shines under bright lights.
- 250 people are behind the success of Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This includes both the cast and crew. They work hard and promptly to get the complicated props and sets going. Did you know that the snowflake bubbles that rise from the orchestra pit and fly in the sky are planted with GPS tracker
- It’s all in the numbers. The glittery costumes worn in the “Let Christmas Shine” are adorned with 3,000 Swarovski crystals.
- The wear and tear on the tap shoes is impressive. Since they take the biggest beating, sometimes these shoes don’t even last a single dance number. Among the Santa, the Rockettes and chorus, more than 1,200 shoes are worn in a single show.
- Wardrobe malfunctions and quick fixes. ‘Quick change’ booths are located at the side of the stage in case of small malfunctions. They are loaded with extra pair of gloves, tights, earrings, glue, duct-tape and other gadgets.
- The wardrobe team. 13 dressers, a full-time tailor and a laundry person assistant the dancers during the show. There is also a part-time helper whose only job is to steam the costumes in between the acts.
- Heavy duty laundry. Around 250 laundry baskets are used in each show to carry the laundry and shoes of the staff. Overall 350 loads of laundry are done in a single week.
- It’s all about precision. Due to the intense dance routines, the Rockettes are not allowed to tug on their costumes as it would spoil the synchronized effect. To avoid such mishaps, the costumes are stitched with enough stretch so that the even the raising of an arm doesn’t bring the hem up of the skirt.
- Their red cheeks? The rosy red cheeks that standout in the “Rag Dolls” and “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” acts are actually red felt circles put on with a double-sided tape. Every season more than 30,000 red dots are used.
- The sweat-soaked life of a glamorous Rockette. In the recent years The Christmas Spectacular has introduced more athletic routines, driven by aerobic choreography and more kick lines. This means more hard work, more sore muscles and hard knocks for the girls.
- America considers the Rockettes a national treasure. Russell Markert’s “dancing daughters” have helped preserve eight decades worth of tradition and patriotism in the country. Today, they are thriving more than ever.