Christmas at Radio City Music Hall and NY City

Early in December my wife and I, along with two of our close friends were fortunate enough to visit New York City.  We had visited New York numerous times in the past, several times during the spring and summer, and other times during the holiday season.  What can you say about New York City at the holiday’s, it’s probably one of the most festive places you can visit.  Sites like The Rockefeller Center tree, the skating rink, the decorated retail Christmas windows, are just a few of the famous landmarks that make New York so special during the holidays.

Our friends had purchased tickets for “The Radio City Back Stage tour”, which allowed us to visit restricted areas of the music hall. It was an awesome tour.  I was fascinated to learn the history of the complex as well as the story of the Rockettes.  During the guided tour you have an opportunity to visit “Roxy’s” private entertainment area, and meet one of the performing Rockettes and ask questions.

The complex and building have a history that dates back to the time frame of our country’s great depression and the stock market crash which occurred during the 1920′ and 30’s.  John D. Rockefeller was one of the major contributors in the inception and development of Radio city. Our nation was so fortunate that someone such as John D. Rockefeller was living during that time. Without his mindset and financial resources, the Radio City property may have never been developed.

As the property(s) continued to expand and media companies (RCA for one) took advantage of the commercial spaces, all this activity and added growth drew the attention of a very colorful individual, S.L. Rothafel. “Roxy” as he was known to his friends, was a character in his own right. He was well known by many for creating entertaining shows in other parts of the country.  His flamboyant and elaborate entertainment used all the genres of the day; genres like vaudeville, dance, movies, etc., all utilizing flashy decor, lighting, and vibrant backdrops.  Hence, with his help, along with the Radio city development folks working with many of the country’s top designers and artisans, Radio City Music Hall was born. During the continued construction and design of this popular showplace, they had the grandest of intentions in mind from the very beginning.  They created and designed an awe-inspiring venue, with lots of glitz, pop, and pizazz.  Furniture, moldings, drapes, chandeliers, and carpets, were all carefully chosen, to enhance the building’s interior.  Much of this philosophy and ambiance can still be seen in The Hall’s designs today.  Even the men and women’s rest rooms, designated as “lounges”, offered a different look and art-deco style for their time, never seen before.  By the 1940’s Radio city became one of New York’s largest attractions.  Many films made their first premier in the theater. Vintage films like Bambi, The Jolson story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s all made their premier’s at Radio City, along with some contemporary films like Sex and the City 1 & 2.

But as the 70’s approached, the news was not good.  Changes in film distribution made it difficult for Radio City to secure exclusive bookings of many films of the day. Furthermore, the theater preferred to show only G-rated movies, which limited their film choices as the decade wore on.  Film presentation finally ended in 1979.  Decisions were made to convert the building to office space. A combination of preservation and commercial interests (including an irate commentary on Saturday Night Lives’ Weekend Update given by John Belushi) resulted in the preservation of Radio City and in 1980, after a renovation, it reopened to the public.

With regards to the theater itself, Radio City Music Hall is the largest indoor theater in the world!  There are no poles supporting its arched-curved ceiling, which means there really isn’t a bad or obstructed seat in the house.  An enormous stage, with elevator sections that raises and lowers performers as needed, there is a separate orchestra elevator which can raise and lower the entire orchestra when desired.  There are also numerous other features that were designed to add and enhance the entertainment experience for theater visitors.  Interestingly enough, during a major restoration ($70 million in 1999) for the Hall, experts assessed the stage and theater area for any improvements that they felt might be needed. It was unanimously decided that no changes, and/or improvements were necessary – a real testament to the quality of its initial design and construction.

For many years, I had always wanted to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.  Unfortunately, during our other one-day bus trips surrounding the holidays, there was really never enough time. There are so many sites to see, not to mention trying to navigate the city, parking, etc., all of these factors have always presented additional challenges. It’s always been difficult trying to fit everything in. Other folks who I’ve spoken with, who have attended the show in the past have always commented on how much they enjoyed the show, and that The Rockettes were pretty astonishing.  During this holiday visit to the city, our friends made all the plans. So lucky for us, they were able to purchase tickets for us to attend the Christmas Spectacular on Saturday evening.

The show was FABULOUS!  It was beyond all my expectations.  This year celebrates the 85th season for The Rockettes, and they showed everyone why they’ve been able to maintain such a legacy. Their showmanship and show-stopping choreography continues to dazzle everyone.  Parts of the presentation features a 50-foot LCD screen (a screen so sharp and clear it must be seen to be believed) that not only acts as a backdrop of sorts for several portions of the show, but was also used to transport viewers throughout scenes from New York City, past and present. Naturally, Santa Clause takes center stage and on numerous occasions, in 3-D!! Wearing the 3-D glasses, puts you right into the action as you fly with Santa over many of the major landmarks of New York City. New lighting effects coupled with a great music score and amazing dance routines all combine to offer a fantastic entertainment experience.  Of course several times throughout the performance, The Rockettes themselves entertain us in their glamorous costumes, and several costume changes, showing us their famous “leg kicks”. [Some of the costume changes need to be accomplished in less than 80 seconds!] They offer a new segment this year, incorporating a New York City double decker tour bus on stage which appears to move, carrying tourists and The Rockettes up and down the streets of New York.  And another fan favorite is the “March of the Toy Soldiers”, highlighting their unified dance and movement, and ending with their famous cannon shot, causing all the soldiers to fall, in a domino-like fashion down the line. At the end of the spectacular, you get to see and hear the sounds of the “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ that is over 65 years old.

All of us enjoyed the show very much, particularly myself.  I would highly recommend to anyone who has not seen the show, to make every effort to do so.  Some of the tickets can be fairly expensive, however, there are various kiosks and booths at time square that offer discounted tickets, for Radio City and many other Broadway shows and are quite reasonable-many discounts for the same day performances.

In closing, I’ve always believed in maintaining traditions. I understand that change is sometimes necessary for numerous reasons, and in many cases inevitable. So many things in our society have changed over time to make way for “progress”, but it’s nice know that there are still places like Radio City Music Hall that maintains the traditions of the past while making accommodations and provisions for the future.

Rockettes Christmas dance video

 

Christmas dance number

 

Additional videos

 

Rockettes the March of the Wooden Soldiers part 1

 

Rockettes the March of the Wooden Soldiers part 1

Rockettes Wooden Soldiers part 2   

Rockettes Wooden Soldiers part 3

Christmas in New York City video

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Very nice experience Sal. You may want to look at the photographs at the link below:
    http://life.time.com/?N=0&Nty=1&p=0&cmd=tags&srchCat=LIFE&s=rockettes

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