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Secrets of Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall, the New York City icon and historical landmark that the Rockettes call home, is a 6,000-seat venue with the largest stage and indoor TV screen in the world... but maybe you've heard all of that before. Richard Claffey, senior vice president and general manager of Radio City, took amNewYork on an exclusive tour of the theater's secret places. Here are 10 of them.
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The secret organ doors
Radio City's two Wurlitzer organs, sitting on either side of the stage, are the only two of their kind in the world. But in spite of the grand appearance of the instruments themselves, the hall's organ players have to crawl through a tiny door to get to their stools without being noticed. See how it works. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
The 'ghost' orchestra
In a chamber two stories above the stage-level organs sit a grand piano, drum set and glockenspiel, all played during shows without any musicians actually touching them. As the organ players downstairs hit their notes, air travels from the organs through pipes in the ceiling and hits the sweet spots on the instruments above so that they are able to join in on the performance on their own. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
The Kickback Lounge
Radio City's famed Rockette dancers hang out in a place called the Kickback Lounge (where else?) that's stocked with massage chairs for soothing aches or napping between shows, places to eat and socialize, and, of course, plenty of exercise equipment to keep them in tip-top shape. There is no standard Rockette workout-- sorry, ladies-- but each dancer abides by her own routine. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
The hidden tunnel
Radio City Music Hall is connected to Rockefeller Center by an underground tunnel, which was frequented by patrons until it was closed to the public in the 1960s. Now, it's used as a quick and discreet way to shuttle celebrities between places without fanfare. Everyone from Ringo Starr to Jewel has walked its path. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
A uniform appearance
While the Rockettes' costumes change many times in the course of just one show, every detail of the theater itself has remained the same since it opened in 1932. Given New York City historical landmark status in 1978 and national landmark status in 1987, Radio City Music Hall must keep everything in its original state-- down to the patterns of the wallpaper and carpets and the upholstery on the seats. When these are updated, Radio City actually deals with the same manufacturers it has used since it opened, some still run by the same families. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
Before planning a design for Radio City Music Hall, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., sent his team on a cruise to Europe to look at the theaters abroad for inspiration. They were more impressed by the view on the ship, however, which led to the sunset-inspired, golden-arched ceiling, with red seats depicting the reflection of the sun on the ocean. This is the view of the "horizon" from the Presidents' Booth, the highest point in the audience, 165 feet from the stage. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
'Magically' materializing musicians
Thanks to an intricate system behind the scenes that includes a 10,000 pound band car driven by a man lying on his stomach in a crawl space below, musicians can seamlessly be transported a distance of 80 feet to the orchestra pit mid-show without the audience ever knowing what happened. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
Decades of autographs
The signature of every celebrity to perform at Radio City Music Hall since 1932 is on file-- in 13 guest books filled to the brim with the most famous of names. While this one is kept out in a glass case for special visitors to browse, the others are tucked away in a drawer for safe-keeping. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
The luxury apartment
Radio City Music Hall's Roxy Suite, used today to host only the most A-list of visitors, was actually the apartment of the venue's original general manager, Samuel Roxy Rothafel, when it first opened in 1932. Rothafel, a storied New York theater entrepreneur, is credited with transforming the silent film experience at movie palaces in the early 20th century. He hosted everyone from Judy Garland to Vincente Minnelli, and traces of his time there still remain, from the grand decor to the vintage book collection on the shelves. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
An artist's tennis elbow?
Famed American muralist Ezra Winter created the enormous painting in Radio City Music Hall's lobby to depict mankind's search for the fountain of eternal youth, but was he inspired by his own aches and pains at the time? The mural, at 40 feet high and 60 feet wide, is so large, the entire piece had to be painted outdoors on a tennis court in sections and sewn together. Proud members of Winter's family still attend shows at Radio City today.
Though you won't see most of these secrets first-hand, visitors can get their own peek behind the scenes at Radio City Music Hall by taking a Stage Door Tour. The tours depart every 30 minutes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, and tickets are for sale at the theater, all Ticketmaster outlets and by calling 866-858-0008.
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(Credit: Nina Ruggiero)