Radio City's Holiday Chaos

Radio City Music Hall in New York decorated for Christmas exterior AP

The motto in New York these days is: "The show must go on," and at Radio City Music Hall, does it ever! Correspondent Bill Geist reports for CBS News Sunday Morning.

It's got hordes of Santas, a small herd of exotic wildlife, and a bevy of beauties – the Rockettes, celebrating their 75th anniversary.

They call it the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. And for perhaps the first time in show business history, "spectacular" may be an understatement.

Howard Kollins, the executive producer, numbers "two companies of performers, 150 people, over 1,500 costumes, 60 stage crew, 28 wardrobe crew, 35 members of band, eight animal handlers, three camels, six sheep, two donkeys and a horse...and a partridge in as pear tree."

Not since surf met turf has there been such a lavish combination of extravagant elements served up at one sitting. New Yorkers know it's Christmastime in the city when the camels and their colleagues appear once again on the sidewalks of New York. Everyone seems delighted, except one horrified man whose job it is to sweep the sidewalks.

Backstage, says Kollins, "It's kind of controlled chaos." With live animals and Rockettes and hundreds of costume changes, there is something happening all the time and within the space of five minutes, an elf can be getting sick, a camel can be stepping on a Rockette, and someone can be stuck in one of the stage elevators.

The wings are a surreal, stupefying swirl of leggy dancing girls, pandas on bicycles, living lawn elves, and prominent Christmas figures both secular and religious. Some people have suggested traffic control devices.

"It's mayhem. Mayhem! And everybody accepts that," says stage manager John Bonanni, whose job it is to try and control the chaos. Some nights, he dreams of directing a one-man show.

Running the complex stage elevator system is like captaining a nuclear submarine. Skaters go up, Rockettes as rag dolls come down...and within two minutes go back up as reindeer. The quickest costume change is 90 seconds. Zippers and Velcro fly everywhere was they rip 13 rag-doll pieces off and slap 14 reindeer pieces on 14, and then rise on the elevator onto the stage.

The Rockettes don't have much time to rest, but they do have sleeping bags backstage so they can catch a nap whenever they can.

At last, a little calm is restored as Jesus is born in the Nativity scene. But there are still three more shows to go. On "light days, the schedule calls for four shows. On Friday, there are five shows and on Saturday, six.

The show has gone on every year since 1933. They never even considered not having this year's Christmas Spectacular. No known force of man or nature could stop the irrepressible Rockettes.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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