11 Things We Learned on the Radio City Stage Door Tour

Jonathan Zeller

Just before the Radio City Christmas Spectacular started its holiday run, we went on the Radio City Stage Door Tour (tickets available here). Guided by Joyce, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic nearly 14-year veteran of the tour, we learned a lot about the historic venue. Here are a few of the notable takeaways:

1. All Rockettes must be between 5'6" and 5'10½".
A real-life Rockette, Alana Neehof, told us so. This is so that, when arranged along the kickline, they'll all appear to be the same height. This requirement makes Rockettes the astronauts of the holiday-entertainment world.

You get to meet a Rockette on the tour and can ask her questions. On the way out, you can buy a souvenir photograph of you with your Rockette in front of Radio City.

2. At Radio City, you're on a boat. Sort of.
Numerous touches throughout Radio City Music Hall are intended to replicate the feel of a luxury liner. Samuel Lionel Rothafel (known as "Roxy"), who designed the productions at Radio City, reputedly came up with his concept for the auditorium inspired by what he saw during a cruise. (The art deco interior, influenced by the work of Joseph Urban, was fashioned by architect Edward Durell Stone and designer Donald Deskey).

As a result, the look of the stage is meant to imitate a sunset. Amber lighting before every show and during intermission enhances that effect. And throughout the venue, other flourishes—the railings on the balcony and the cavernous feel of the Grand Foyer, with its 60-foot ceilings—evoke the idea of stepping aboard a richly appointed ship.

Photo: Marley White

3. There is an apartment in Radio City Music Hall.
So pleased were the Rockefellers with Roxy's contributions to the Radio City Music Hall project that they gave him his own place to live, right on the premises. The suite would be the envy of virtually anyone who lives in New York City, with a fireplace, quilted mahogany walls and 20-foot ceilings, not to mention acoustics that allow a quiet conversation at the dining room table even in the midst of a loud party.

Despite all this, Roxy never lived in the palatial accommodations. Radio City holds private functions there and keeps a composite guest book with replica signatures from notable personalities who've played the venue.

Photo: Marley White

4. It takes eight hours to clean each chandelier in the Grand Foyer.
They're 29 feet tall and weigh 4,000 pounds. Another cleaning-related tidbit from the Grand Foyer: in 1999, it took six months to clean years of cigarette smoke off of the Fountain of Youth painting by Ezra Winter that's hanging near the giant staircase (smoking is no longer permitted inside Radio City Music Hall or any public New York City venues).


Photo: Marley White

5. Camels, mules and donkeys live in Radio City Music Hall during the holidays.
The animals that are part of the Christmas Spectacular show actually make their home in the theater. They take walks outside at Rockefeller Center every day.

6. The Rockettes predate Radio City.
They were previously known as the Missouri Rockets and the Roxyettes. This composite photograph (above) combines 80 years of images from their classic "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" routine.

7. The restrooms have foot-pedal-operated hand dryers from the 1930s.
Want to dry your hands after washing up but don't like dealing with those pesky motion-operated sensors or wasting paper towels? Welcome to your dream restroom; it turns out the technology to make this particular fantasy come true has been around for about eight decades.

That's not the only notable feature of Radio City's rest areas—the men's and ladies' lounges are spacious places to relax, complete with tables, plush seating and even a pay phone. (In 2013? Believe it!) While they're not part of the tour during the holidays—audience members at theChristmas Spectacular need to use them—you are, of course, welcome to use and explore them on your own while you're in the building.

8. The 80-year-old hydraulic elevators beneath the Great Stage are perfect just the way they are.
The theater has received a number of technological upgrades—3-D projection, a gigantic LCD screen and, back in 1980, a full renovation. But during that overhaul of the theater, engineers could find no reason to change the original hydraulic lifts beneath the stage, which were so advanced when they were first built that the US Navy imitated them in its aircraft carriers during World War II and had personnel guard the facilities at Radio City to prevent the enemy from learning their secrets.

While we couldn't see the stage elevators up close during our tour, and they won't be accessible during the run of the Christmas Spectacular, they are generally part of the experience when they're not in use—contact Radio City to make sure.

9. Commuters could once enter Radio City directly from a subway station.
While those days are over, their influence is still felt in the ambience of the Grand Lounge ("Everything here is grand," says Joyce). The space has low lighting and an abundance of diamond shapes in its design—accents that were intended to soothe those entering the premises and encourage them to lower their voices.

10. There are seamstresses on call during the Christmas Spectacular in case any costume emergencies crop up.
We learned this while taking a peek into the costume shop. Mostly, though, we just admired the colorful costumes from decades of Radio City shows.


Photo: Marley White

11. There's a scale model of Radio City Music Hall, in Radio City Music Hall, that's older than Radio City Music Hall.
Before the facility was built, John D. Rockefeller had to personally approve this original working scale model. It was created in 1928, four years before the full-size version was constructed. Legend has it that, when first presented with the model, Rockefeller was outraged, asking: "What is this? A music hall for ants?"*

*This isn't true, but we love Zoolander. And the model itself is real, and very detailed.