Seeing the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular is, well, spectacular, but equally impressive is the opportunity to peek behind the curtain, so to speak, to see how it all gets done behind the scenes.
My lucky family was given that opportunity on a recent trip to New York City for the holidays. A friend of a friend happens to work on the technical side of the show, and when she heard seeing the performance was part of my mom’s bucket list trip, she offered to show us around.
We already knew a little about the Rockettes from an earlier opportunity to dance with them on one of their on-the-road performances, but this was all part of ‘The Great Stage’, Radio City Music Hall.
So, as soon as the show we’d bought tickets for ended, we waited to meet our new friend, Danielle, to meet us near the stage for our private tour.
The first thing we saw backstage was a camel. Yep. You read that right.
There are live animals in the performance (it is called the Live Nativity, after all). There are actually two camels backstage. There are also sheep and donkeys, but the camels were what impressed me most. My mom thought they were animatronics from our seat in the audience, but it was clear these were the real thing on our tour. Danielle told us they are rescue animals. You might see them on a walk through the city streets if you happen to be out near Radio City very late at night.
We continued to make our way through the narrow hallways, which were bustling with activity getting read for the next show when we were there. We meandered through costumes (there are 1,100 worn in the Christmas Spectacular), props and people.
When we passed the laundry baskets of shoes, Danielle stopped to point out the mini-microphones on each. That’s part of her job. This is so everyone in the audience can hear the tap routines for “12 Days of Christmas” and “Rag Dolls”. Wardrobe removes the heel and sole, and inserts a custom leather sole that attaches to the bottom of the tap shoe. A new heel is made that allows a special cavity within the heel for the sound transmitter to be stored inside—this helps pick up the sounds of the taps.
Danielle is one of about 250 people it takes to put the show together. There’s a cast of 40 Rockettes in each show (technically only 36 are on stage—with four standing by in case there’s an issue), singers, dancers, musicians, and figure skaters. Then, there’s the cast and crew working behind the scenes (including my pal Danielle).
The props are everywhere, on every level. The bus seen in the show is suspended in mid-air during our tour. It’ll be brought down to the stage level when it’s time, but first, other props like the house and cannon seen in the Parade of the Wooden Soldier number will be needed.
That’s one of two iconic numbers that has remained nearly unchanged with the original holiday show, back in 1933. Back then, it was a 30-minute live Christmas Spectacular. Now, it’s 90 minutes.
The Living Nativity is the other number that hasn’t changed since the start.
Since 1933, more than 75 million people have seen the show live.
And since 1933, more than 3000 women have performed as Rockettes.
In each version of a show, there are 80 Rockettes—40 in each cast (so they can rotate in and out when there are multiple performance each day).
Each Rockette has to be between 5’6” and 5’10 ½”. They keep the taller dancers in the middle and shorter ones on the end to make it look like they are all one height on stage.
And the costumes, well, they’re heavy. Surprisingly heavy considering the gals are dancing in them for an hour and a half. They rotate out multiple times in a performance, with the quickest change happening between the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “New York at Christmas” numbers. They only have 78 seconds to change in the wings of the stage during that switchover!
Can you imagine?
Another cool fact about Radio City Music Hall: the stage. It’s actually a city block wide. One city block!!
And the curtain (or contour is what I believe she called it) is the biggest in the world. It goes up 90 feet!
This is a quick recap video of the performance we watched on stage that day.