A Radio City Rockette for six seasons and counting, Amanda McCormick welcomes you to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, an enduring holiday celebration that continues to sparkle with appeal for audiences around the world.
Now in its 88th year, the show brings together its own traditions of holiday seasons past, containing the classic “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” number to a breathtaking sleigh ride around Manhattan to the show-stopping finale with the entire line of Rockettes and actual camels. (Not to mention a singing and dancing Santa!)
In this exclusive interview, McCormick talks about her journey as a performer from Virginia to New York, the amount of rehearsal that goes into the show both on and offstage, and what it’s like having a former Rockette as this year’s show director.
Justin Tedaldi: Hi Amanda! Tell us about where you’re from and how you came to Radio City.
Amanda McCormick: I am from Fredericksburg, VA. I grew up performing at the Kennedy Center with Debbie Allen, the George Washington Masonic Temple with the Capitol City Opera and with the Moscow Ballet in the Nutcracker. I was afforded a number of exciting opportunities growing up, and my first experience with the Rockettes was no different.
I came to New York for the first time at age 11 with my dance studio. We took a couple of dance classes at one of the professional studios where we got fitted for pointe shoes and also saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. We were in the front row of the first mezzanine, and coming from a technically trained background, I remember being so enthralled by all of the lines. I thought it was so beautiful and told my mom, “New York is going to be my home and I am going to be a Rockette.”
I auditioned three times the summer after my sophomore year of college and got cut all three times but I went back again the following spring and felt so good about the audition that I started making plans to put my college education on hold and find an apartment in NYC. I got the call on June 20th, and I just celebrated four years of living in New York and am now in my sixth season as a Rockette in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular which is running now through January 3rd! Time flies!
JT: There’s a lot of history behind the Christmas Spectacular. What things have you learned about it that have impressed you the most?
AM: We have a demanding schedule throughout rehearsals and shows, but we have two casts that perform six days per week with one day off each week.
It used to be that there was only one cast of women who would perform every show, every day, and they would rotate spots depending on who was in each performance, meaning, they were rarely in the same spot for more than one or two weeks at a time. That’s like learning a new show every couple of weeks! I was so impressed to learn that. Now, we get to stay in the same spot for an entire season, but our spots do change slightly from year to year depending on the height of the women on the line, so we too must learn a new show almost every year.
I also love that the Radio City Christmas Spectacular has been around since 1933 and while it is updated each year, the fan favorites are usually one of the two numbers that have been in the show since its inception: “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and the “Living Nativity.” I think the commitment to keeping the show fresh and exciting, while also keeping tradition alive, sets the Radio City Christmas Spectacular apart from any other show.
JT: What things about working on this year’s edition have you taken to heart?
AM: This year, Julie Branham is our director and choreographer, which is really special because Julie herself was a Rockette. Julie is all about being present, working hard and appreciating each other and everyone else involved in the show, which brings a positive energy and an air of gratitude to all that we do. Our motto this year is B+ (be positive!)
JT: To you, what have been some of the most rewarding things about being a Rockette?
AM: First, just the experience to have a dream like this come true has been personally rewarding. It creates a space to believe that anything can happen, and is really inspirational for others who want to make the same dream a reality.
Second, I LOVE interacting with the audience members. We do a number of meet and greets throughout the season with families, and it is so beautiful and energizing to see and hear how magical the show is to people. I am so grateful to do what I do, performing on the Great Stage at Radio City Music Hall, having the opportunity to give back and share with others, helping create their traditions, making the holiday season brighter, and making dreams come true. You can get tickets at radiocitychristmas.com or at the Radio City box office to join in the fun!
JT: What kind of attention has the show received from international audiences that you’ve seen? Any special stories?
AM: I’ve done the Radio City Stage Door Tour, where people tour the inside of Radio City Music Hall and meet a Rockette at the end, and I always love to meet the foreign visitors. I don’t have any particular story, but Radio City, as a building and establishment, and the Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular reach far and wide.
JT: “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” has always been an audience favorite. For those curious, how many times does it take to practice as a team to get everything right?
AM: We learn the show during our six weeks of rehearsal leading up to opening night, during which time, we rehearse six hours per day, six days per week. “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” is definitely one of our harder numbers—even though we are walking—because you have to be focused the entire time, always guiding to whomever is next to you. The formation changes and straight lines show much more in this number because there is less dance movement, so one step too big can throw the entire line off. We also practice the fall in intervals with six women at first, then 12, 18, and then the full line of 36, so everyone can get used to the feeling of having that many people in front or behind you.
JT: Since so much of the Rockettes’ choreography is performed together as an ensemble, do you ever practice certain numbers at home? Is that something many of the performers do?
AM: Of course! While it is a group effort to put on the show and it is the athleticism and precision of the group as a whole that is impressive, we each have to do our homework after rehearsal. Each Rockette has her own track in the show with different locations and depths on stage so we each have to go home at night and review the choreography and our personal track within any given number in order to make the whole picture what it is! We are more amazing together but it takes each individual doing her best to make that happen.
JT: During a season of shows, when viewing the audience from the stage, do you feel that the atmosphere changes as it gets closer to Christmas Day?
AM: Absolutely! You can feel it in the energy around Radio City walking into work, in the audiences that come, how loudly they clap and cheer, even with the crew, wardrobe, and everyone else involved the show! It’s a time of year that most spend with their families, and because we are performing shows on Christmas Eve and Christmas (and Thanksgiving and New Year’s!), we become family to each other and you can especially feel it the closer it gets to Christmas.
JT: What are some of your favorite things about New York City at Christmastime?
AM: I love how all the department stores have window decorations, and some even have window stories! I like to check them all out when I have time. I also love how Sixth Avenue gets decked out with huge ornaments, a life-size train, and Nutcrackers that line columns of skyscrapers. It really helps get everyone in the holiday spirit, and it’s all surrounding Radio City so I see them every day on my way in!
JT: Finally, what feeling do you want the little girls and boys who see the show to go home with?
AM: I want every child to go home knowing that dreams come true. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is such a magical experience—its live theater that transports the audience to a different world, whether it’s to Santa’s workshop or inside of a snow globe for our finale number “Snow.” The message is about believing, and if you believe, anything can happen.
The 2015 Radio City Christmas Spectacular is now playing at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, in New York City. For more information, visit www.radiocitychristmas.com.
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