By Clive Young.
Built during the Great Depression, New York’s Radio City Music Hall has become one of the best-known venues in the world, and much of that stems from the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular, featuring the high-kicking Rockettes. The show is performed well over 200 times annually between November and year’s end in the 5,900 seat venue; as a result, it plays to more than a million people every holiday season. Ensuring that every seat hears every note of the show, Radio City upgraded its audio system a few years ago to stay in step with the times.
While the Rockettes, Santa and various exotic animals (camels!) are busy on stage, things are busy behind the scenes too. It takes more than 250 people to stage the show—there’s the 150-member cast, but the production staff for every show includes 23 carpenters, 20 electricians, 15 prop people, 7 sound people, 28 wardrobe, 2 projectionist, 5 stage managers, 8 animals handlers and 40 orchestra members. Including all front-of-house personnel (ushers, ticket-takers and merchandise salespeople), the show employs nearly 600 people in New York City during the holiday season.
Some other huge numbers:
• 14,096 AA batteries are used during the show’s run to power the wireless mics worn on-stage by the entire cast.
• The stage measures 144 feet by 66 feet, and is made up of three elevators, which may be set at any level from the sub-basement to 13 feet above the stage–a vertical drop of 40 feet. The orchestra uses a fourth elevator. Together, all four weigh 380,000 pounds.
• Scenic backdrops for the show measure 95 feet in width and 45 feet in height. As space is limited backstage to store all of the props used during the performance, much of it flown for storage. 20 chain hoists are used to support the “flying” props, and 65,000 lbs. of counter-weight are used to balance and support the immense amount of hanging scenery.
• The production incorporates what’s billed as the country’s “Largest flying indoor LED screen” used throughout the show, including a stint as a moving backdrop for a double-decker bus in a “New York at Christmas” segment. The bus itself weighs 7 tons and is 34 feet long, 12 feet high. In the course of the 8-week run, it will travel approximately 37 miles onstage; off-stage, the bus hangs 23 feet in the air for storage.
Keeping audiences coming back year after year has required the show to stay up-to-date—an effort that includes a slew of modern audio gear. The venue itself underwent a massive renovation in 1999, but the audio department got its own Christmas present when it received a heavy-duty audio upgrade in 2007.
Consulting firm Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams (WJHW) served as consultant of record for the project, specifying the venue’s house sound system, while Radio City also created an advisory board of independent concert engineers Tom Young (Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra), Dave Natale (Rolling Stones, Tina Turner), and Brian Ruggles (Billy Joel, Don Henley) to vette the proposed systems.
The end result is based around two columns and a center cluster of JBL VerTec line array boxes. Above each side of the stage hang 15 VerTec VT4889 full-size line array elements, while a VT4800-DA array frame is used to suspend a pair of VT4887A compact line array loudspeakers beneath each main array. A center cluster of eight VT4887As supplements the main system, while two arrays of eight VT4880A arrayable subwoofers each provide extended low-frequency output. QSC PowerLight 340s and 380s are used for the VerTec line arrays, while PL236s and 218s handle the venue’s old Altec system, first installed in 1978 and still used for low-key spoken word events like graduations. Finally, QSC 1.8s power modified EAW JF-80s are used as under-balcony boxes.
The result is a good-sounding show, and combined with the family-friendly visuals onstage, the Spectacular is often times quite the spectacle.