NY -- NYC -- Rockefeller Center -- Radio City Music Hall:
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- Wikipedia Description: Radio City Music Hall
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Radio City Music Hall is an entertainment venue located at 1260 Avenue of the Americas at Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Nicknamed the Showplace of the Nation, it was for a time the leading tourist destination in the city. The venue is notable as the headquarters for the precision dance company, the Rockettes.
Radio City Music Hall was built on a plot of land that was originally intended for a Metropolitan Opera House. The opera house plans were canceled in 1929, leading to the construction of Rockefeller Center. The new complex included two theaters, the "International Music Hall" and the Center Theatre, as part of the "Radio City" portion of Rockefeller Center. The 5,960-seat Music Hall was the larger of the two venues. It was largely successful until the 1970s, when declining patronage nearly drove the Music Hall to bankruptcy. Radio City Music Hall was designated a New York City Landmark in May 1978, and the Music Hall was restored and allowed to remain open.
Radio City Music Hall was designed by Edward Durell Stone and Donald Deskey in the Art Deco style. One of the more notable parts of the Music Hall is its large auditorium, which was the world's largest when the Hall first opened. The Music Hall also contains a variety of art.
The construction of Rockefeller Center occurred between 1932 and 1940 on land that John D. Rockefeller Jr. leased from Columbia University. The Rockefeller Center site was originally supposed to be occupied by a new opera house for the Metropolitan Opera. By 1928, Benjamin Wistar Morris and designer Joseph Urban were hired to come up with blueprints for the house. However, the new building was too expensive for the opera to fund by itself, and it needed an endowment, and the project ultimately gained the support of John D. Rockefeller Jr. The planned opera house was canceled in December 1929 due to various issues, but Rockefeller made a deal with RCA to develop Rockefeller Center as a mass media complex with four theaters. This was later downsized to two theaters.
Samuel Roxy Rothafel, a successful theater operator who was renowned for his domination of the city's theater industry, joined the center's advisory board in 1930. He offered to build two theaters: a large vaudeville "International Music Hall" on the northernmost block with more than 6,200 seats, and the smaller 3,500-seat "RKO Roxy" movie theater on the southernmost block. The idea for these theaters was inspired by Roxy's failed expansion of the 5,920-seat Roxy Theatre on 50th Street, one and a half blocks away. Roxy also envisioned an elevated promenade between the two theaters, but this was never published in any of the official blueprints.
In September 1931, a group of NBC managers and architects went to tour Europe to find performers and look at theater designs. However, the group did not find any significant architectural details that they could use in the Radio City theaters. In any case, Roxy's friend Peter B. Clark turned out to have much more innovative designs for the proposed theaters than the Europeans did.
Roxy had a list of design requests for the Music Hall. First, he did not want the hall to have either a large balcony over the box seating, or rows of box seating facing each other, as implemented in opera houses. This resulted in a "tiered" balcony system where several shallow balconies were built at the back of the theater, cantilevered off the back wall. Second, Roxy specified that the stage contain a central section with three parts, so that the sets could be changed easily. Roxy also wanted red seats because he believed it would make the theater successful. He wished for an auditorium with an oval shape because contemporary wisdom held that oval-shaped auditoriums had better acoustic qualities. Finally, he wanted to build at least 6,201 seats in the Music Hall so it would be larger than the Roxy Theatre. There were only 5,960 audience seats, but Roxy counted exactly 6,201 seats by including elevator stools, orchestra pit seats, and dressing-room chairs.
Despite Roxy's specific requests for design features, the Music Hall's general design was determined by the Associated Architects, the architectural consortium that was designing the rest of Rockefeller Center. The Radio City Music Hall was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone and interior designer Donald Deskey in the Art Deco style. Stone used Indiana Limestone for the facade, as with all the other buildings in Rockefeller Center, but he also included some distinguishing features. Three 90-foot-tall (27 m) signs with the hall's name on it were placed on the facade, while intricately ornamented fire escapes were installed on the walls facing 50th and 51st Streets. Inside, Stone designed 165-foot-long (50 m) Grand Foyer with a large staircase, balconies, and mirrors, and commissioned Ezra Winter for the grand foyer's 2,400-square-foot (220 m2) mural, "Quest for the Fountain of Eternal Youth". Deskey, meanwhile, was selected as part of a competition for interior designers for the Music Hall. He had reportedly called Winter's painting "God-awful" and regarded the interior and exterior as not much better. To make the Music Hall presentable in his opinion, Deskey designed upholstery and furniture that was custom to the Hall. Deskey's plan was regarded the best of 35 submissions, and he ultimately used the rococo style in his interior design.
The International Music Hall later became the Radio City Music Hall. The names "Radio City" and "Radio City Music Hall" derive from one of the complex's first tenants, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), who planned a mass media complex called Radio City on the west side of Rockefeller Center.
Construction and early years
Construction on Radio City Music Hall started in December 1931, and the hall topped out in August 1932. In November 1932, Russell Markert's American Rockets (later to be known as the Rockettes) stopped performing the Roxy Theatre and announced that they would be moving to the Music Hall. By then, Roxy was busy adding music acts in preparation for the hall's opening at the end of the year.
The Music Hall opened to the public on December 27, 1932, with a lavish stage show featuring numbers including Ray Bolger, Doc Rockwell and Martha Graham. The opening was meant to be a return to high-class variety entertainment. However, the opening was not a success: the program was very long, spanning from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. of the next day, and a multitude of acts were crammed onto the world's largest stage, ensuring that individual acts were lost in the cavernous hall. As the premiere went on, audience members, including John Rockefeller Jr, waited in the lobby or simply left early. Some news reporters, tasked with writing reviews of the premiere, guessed the ending of the program because they left beforehand. Reviews ranged from furious to commiserate. The film historian Terry Ramsaye wrote that "if the seating capacity of the Radio City Music Hall is precisely 6,200, then just exactly 6,199 persons must have been aware at the initial performance that they were eye witnesses to [...] the unveiling of the world's best 'bust'". Set designer Robert Edmond Jones resigned in disappointment, and Graham was fired. Despite the negative reviews of the performances, the theater's design was very well received. One reviewer stated: "It has been said of the new Music Hall that it needs no performers; that its beauty and comforts alone are sufficient to gratify the greediest of playgoers."
On January 11, 1933, after incurring a net operating loss of $180,000, the Music Hall converted to the then-familiar format of a feature film, with a spectacular stage show that Roxy had perfected. The first film shown on the giant screen was Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen, and the Music Hall became the premiere showcase for films from the RKO-Radio Studio, with Topaze the first RKO film to play there. The film-plus-stage-spectacle format continued at the Music Hall until 1979, with four complete performances presented every day.
Through the 1960s, the Music Hall was successful regardless of the status of the city's economic, business, or entertainment sectors as a whole. In 1965, the hall was closed entirely for five days for its first-ever full cleaning.
By the early 1970s, the proliferation of closed-captioned foreign movies had reduced attendance at the Music Hall. Changes in film distribution made it difficult for Radio City to secure exclusive bookings of many films, and the Music Hall preferred to show only G-rated movies, which further limited their film choices as the decade wore on. Popular films, such as Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, and The Godfather Part II, failed the Music Hall's screening criteria. By 1972, the Music Hall had fired performers' unions and terminated six of the thirty-six Rockettes. A painting by Stuart Davis was donated to the Museum of Modern Art to reduce Radio City Music Hall's tax burden. In 1977, annual attendance reached an all-time low of 1.5 million, a 70% decrease from the 5 million visitors reported in 1968.
By January 1978, the Music Hall was in debt, and officials stated that it could not remain open after April. Alton Marshall, president of Rockefeller Center, announced that due to a projected loss of $3.5 million for the upcoming year Radio City Music Hall would close its doors on April 12. Plans for alternate uses for the structure included converting the theater into tennis courts, a shopping mall, an aquarium, a hotel, a theme park, or the American Stock Exchange. Upon hearing the announcement, Rosemary Novellino, Dance Captain of the Radio City Music Hall Ballet Company, formed the Showpeople's Committee to Save Radio City Music Hall. The Committee consisted of an alliance between performers, the media, and political allies including New York lieutenant governor Mary Anne Krupsak.
Following the closure announcement, the interior was made a city landmark in March. This designation was contested, and Rockefeller Center Inc. unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit to try to reverse the landmark designation. On April 8, four days before the planned closing date, the Empire State Development Corporation voted to create a nonprofit subsidiary to lease the Music Hall. On May 12, 1978, Radio City Music Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Plans for a 20-story mixed-use tower above the Radio City Music Hall were announced in April 1978, with rents from the proposed tower providing the necessary funds to keep the hall open. An alternative involving transferring the hall's air rights to another building in the complex was also privately discussed. The office building plans were recommended in a draft study that was published in February 1979. The office building was ultimately not built, and Rockefeller Center Inc. instead decided to restore Radio City Music Hall to its original condition. The renovation of the Music Hall started in April 1979. In 1980, the hall reopened to the public. Regular film showings at Radio City ended, and live shows were cut back to holiday showings only.
Radio City Music Hall is currently leased to and managed by The Madison Square Garden Company. Movie premieres and feature runs have occasionally taken place there such as the Harry Potter film series, but the focus of the theater throughout the year is now on concerts and live stage shows, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular continues to be an important annual event (see below). The Music Hall has presented most of the leading pop and rock performers of the last 30 years, as well as televised events including the Grammy Awards, the Tony Awards, the Daytime Emmy Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, and the NFL Draft.
Starting in 2013, however, the Tony Awards was the only major televised awards ceremony at Radio City, as the Video Music Awards relocated permanently to the Barclays Center that year. (The Grammys, which alternated between New York City and Hollywood, has been held since 2004 in Los Angeles, as have the Daytime Emmys, off and on, since 2006.)
In 2017, the Music Hall's dance troupe faced some controversy when it was announced they would perform at the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The announcement prompted calls on social media for boycotts of the Rockettes and the Music Hall.
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