Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On the 3rd Day of Christmas

...my bestie gave to me,
a backstage tour of Radio City.

With noon tickets for a backstage tour of Radio City Music Hall and 1 PM tickets for The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, we pushed through crowds of meandering and awestruck tourists (OK, it's easy to be awestruck around Rockefeller Center. It's nothing like 98% of the rest of the country). Like Chicago, New York City is decked-out at Christmas and that often includes random and gigantic pieces of holiday art.
For scale, please check out the 2-story Chase windows in the background. Where does the city store these in July? The subway system?
And a child-sized floating steam train. Where does that go during the off-season? And is that where Jimmy Hoffa is buried?
What would the city be without the Statue of Liberty camped out on a plywood box, ready to greet the tired, the poor, the huddled masses looking to part with a couple of dollars for a selfie with someone painted cyan, from head to toe?

But enough about that, back to the task at hand...
We are here to see tall women with long legs kick simultaneously and in rhythm to our favorite Christmas carols. But first, please take us behind the scenes.

Without droning on too much about the history of the building and the purpose for constructing it, let's just say it was a pet project of John D. Rockefeller Jr, Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel (who had opened the Roxy Theater in 1927) and RCA chairman David Sarnoff. Built in 1932 and located in midtown Manhattan, this Art Deco-style building was named for one of the radio/tv complex's first tenants, the Radio Corporation of America. The Music Hall opened on December 27, 1932 with a lavish stage show, which was intended to be a return to high-class variety entertainment. But the show was lengthy and one-man acts bombed in such a cavernous space so within a month, it was converted to a venue for showcasing feature films accompanied by a stage show at intermission. Soon, Radio City was the exclusive venue for RKO-Radio City films. But by 1979, a combination of changes in film distribution and the fact that the theater preferred to show only G-rated movies resulted in the theater closing. It was almost converted into office space but was ultimately renovated and reopened to the public in 1980.

Today, Radio City Music Hall is certainly home to the Rockettes and their Christmas Spectacular, but it has also premiered major films (such as Harry Potter), hosted Cirque du Soleil, Barney & Friends, America's Got Talent and the NFL Draft. Several movies have been filmed here as well, including Annie.
The Great Stage, designed by Peter Clark is meant to represent the setting sun and was inspired (as the story goes) by a sunset he witnessed while on a ship crossing the Atlantic. The stage is comprised of 3 sections mounted on hydraulic powered elevators. The systems were so advanced at the time, the Navy incorporated the technology into WWII aircraft carriers. According to our tour guide, during the war, government agents were stationed in the basement to safeguard the technology against enemies. To this day (knock on every piece of wood within a 10,000 mile radius), the elevator system has yet to fail. A turntable center stage allows for scene changes and special effects (like the full size, double-decker tour bus featured in the Christmas show). The stage curtain is the largest in the world and has its own power source to form various shapes while open.

As our guide ushered us through the back halls of Radio City, he joked that tourists, accidentally separated from the group, have gotten lost in the meandering corridors. I can absolutely see how that would happen. We twisted and turned, climbing up a few stairs and stepping down a few more, stopping to look at artwork that featured costume designs

actual costumes

and a wall of fame of former Rockettes.

Perhaps the best photo on this wall, though, is a time-elapsed panorama of the toy soldier domino-effect fall at the end of  The Parade of the Toy Soldiers (if you have no idea what I'm talking, please go YouTube it right now. Or make yourself a note to watch it when the boss isn't looking/the baby is sleeping/or you have more than 17 seconds to yourself). The costumes and choreography of this piece, performed every year during the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, are exactly the same as when they were created in 1933. C-L-A-S-S-I-C.
The first "wooden soldier", closest to the cannon smoke, is one of the original Rockettes. Each one that follows is from a year or more later, ending with one of the most recent dancers. I don't know the exact years for each one but this photo chronicles, in a very clever and cool way, the succession of dancers over an 82-year span.

After traveling several more hallways, we reached Roxy Rothafel's apartment, which was rarely used as living quarters and more often hosted swanky parties with Hollywood's elite.
Even today, the rich and famous who hang out in this room have left their mark in the guest book, which is under glass (probably of the shatter-proof variety).
The ceiling (waaaaay up there) is made of gold and all of the furniture (which is removed for parties) is original. This room can also be rented but I can't imagine for what mind-numbing price. Maybe...1 million dollars?
Just a little of the iconic Rockefeller Center architectural trim peeking around the Christmas tree.

Our backstage tour concluded with a short video about the history and importance of Radio City Music Hall and a Q&A with a real live Rockette! Visitors who had already seen the Christmas show asked her to describe how the toy soldier fall is executed (it's pretty complicated but I will tell you that due to the wide brim of their toy soldier hats, they can only see 4' directly in front of them). I asked her how she keeps in shape during the off-season (strength training, running, barre, Pilates, tap and ballet classes). Then we had the opportunity to have a picture taken with her. Well...we didn't. It was 12:55 and we had 1 PM tickets for the show. So, we were rushed back down all of those corridors and to an elevator, which delivered us to the appropriate mezzanine. As much as I would have liked to have my picture taken with a Rockette, I'm pretty sure that would've made my ass look huge.

The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular is, in short, SPECTACULAR. There is literally something in it for everyone. It started with a little plot development and a short 3D film (glasses included), then some ballet, which is not really my thing, but quickly picked up with a jazz number, followed by the classic wooden soldier routine and ended later with the nativity scene, complete with live animals. Someone in our tour group had asked if the animals on stage at the end of the show were live or animatronic. He quickly answered, "LIVE!" They live in stables in a sub-basement (which is less like a basement, apparently, and more like a gigantic cavernous space beneath the basement of the theater) during the run of the show. They must be walked daily so early morning commuters often witness Radio City staff escorting camels down the street. I can't imagine what that looks like to a tourist. Especially a foreign tourist. But truly, the last scene with the animals makes the show.
For about 4 seconds, I was that annoying person trying to take a picture with their cell phone. But the lady in front of me was that annoying person approximately every 4 seconds. Admittedly, I generally spend more time photographing my experience than actually experiencing it, but this is one of those times when you just have to put the phone away and soak it all in. And for the love of all that is good and holy, don't try to photograph the 3D film. That's just ridiculous. (Yes cell phone lady...I'm talking to you. Oh wait...there you are! You are in my picture, taking a picture. Yeah, don't be her.)

As the show wrapped up, Shana and I made a quick exit out the back and headed for the restrooms before everyone else down in the orchestra level had a chance to catch up. Can I say that if you are just the tiniest bit narcissistic, these are the bathrooms for you! As we stood in line in the powder room, I realized we were completely surrounded by mirrors. I was mesmerized. (And I may have made myself a note for our next house.) By the time we exited, the line had snaked out the powder room and almost into the theater itself.

Before we headed out, I wanted a couple of quick pictures of the lobby.

To the left of the crystal chandelier in the top picture, you can see a tiny bit of the stairwell where a scene from Annie was filmed. Behind the Art Deco chandelier, you can see a huge mural; a beautiful and subtle backdrop in a room of opulence.

We headed out of the theater in search of the gift shop and ran right into the 2 male leads from the show at the back stage door. One of them was dancing and I thought, "Wow! That kid's got moves!" Two seconds later, Shana said, "You recognize them from the show, right?" Um. Sure. Maybe I should start wearing my glasses to the theater.

I'm not gonna lie. The tickets for Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular are pricey. They are pricey even by NYC standards. But if you are committed to doing NYC at Christmas, they are worth every penny.

Tomorrow...We heard there were some Christmas lights in Brooklyn. Oh boy, were there!

PS I'm getting lots of comments asking if we are still in town. We've actually been home from New York for over a week. I just couldn't blog about it while we were there because we were too busy having all of this fun. Every night was a total collapse into bed sometime around midnight. I barely managed to get my teeth brushed. One night I slept in my bra because it was too much effort to take it off.


  1. Am totally enjoying 'our' trip to NYC!

  2. I love your writings. You make me feel like I'm right there every step with you. I so wish I had a smidge of your talent. Love you girl. So glad you had a good time. I definitely plan on a trip to NYC, but I have to admit, it will need to be warm for me. :)


That's it, let it all out....