Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

It's 50 years and counting for Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall is 50-years-new today, Dec. 27.

Fifty years ago, Ray Bolger, The Flying Wallendas, The Radio City Music Hall Corps de Ballet and the Roxyettes - now the world-famous Rockettes - and many others were featured in 17 different acts on that gala opening night. Irving Berlin, Amelia Earhart, and John D. Rockefeller, the man who commissioned the music hall as part of the Rockefeller Center complex, attended the premiere.

About these ads

Tonight, things will be much simpler, but with cause for rejoicing, nevertheless. Just before the start of ''The Magnificient Christmas Spectacular, '' the current show, employees and a small group of family and friends will sing happy birthday to the theater that is often called ''The Showplace of the Nation.''

The real cause for rejoicing, however, is that the kind of family entertainment that epitomized Radio City Music Hall's first 50 years, as well has the magnificent music hall itself, appears here to stay for the next half century.

Four years ago, the future of both these institutions seemed dark indeed. In 1977, its annual losses had reached $2.3 million and Rockefeller Center officials, projecting a deficit of more than a million dollars more in 1978, decided it was time to close the 6,000-seat art deco movie palace.

Shock and disbelief echoed across the country. The block-long lines into the shows lengthened into two, three, four and more long, thronged with those who wanted a last glimpse - and those yet to have their first. Newspapers championed its survival in editorial after editorial. Some politicians even called for the never-too-popular infusion of public money as the last resort.

Some tax concessions were made. But what now appears as the ultimate and perhaps only sensible solution was made from within by management.

The decision, announced in April 1979, was to create Radio City Music Hall Productions Inc. Proceeds from an entirely new spectrum of enterprises would help offset the costs of running the music hall. In addition to the ''theatrical division,'' responsible for the traditional Christmas and Easter shows as well new musicals and critically acclaimed revivals, officials have added a concert division, a convention and industrial show division, a television production unit, and several others.

Do all theseP y ures spell profit?

About these ads

President Richard H. Evans says they don't - not yet, at any rate. In an interview at his office in Radio City Music Hall, he added he was ''optimistic'' that the company would stop using red ink in the not too distant future, but he would not hazard a guess as to exactly when.

Perhaps the most apparent change has been the shift away from being a movie palace, which also featured the Rockettes. Film fans will remember that ''King Kong,'' ''An American in Paris,'' ''Mister Roberts,'' and ''The Odd Couple,'' appeared first at the Music Hall.

The shift began with the opening, on May 31, 1979, of the musical ''A New York Summer.'' This was followed by other shows, including ''A Rockette Spectacular'' starring Ginger Rogers, ''Manhattan Showboat,'' and ''It's Spring.'' Although not Broadway fare, as entertainment for the whole family, or as ''spectaculars'' and not as musicals per se, they drew considerable favor.

This isn't all that's changed. A decade ago, moviegoers could get the best seat in the house for under $5. Today, depending on the offering, seats can be $ 30 each - and, occasionally, much higher. Radio City has presented nearly 90 concerts since the new company began. Christopher Cross, The Commodores, Peter Allen, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra have all been featured.

Discounts are offered for groups sales and in the past three years this particular market ''has expanded from 12 percent to 36 percent of the total gate ,'' says Mr. Evans.

''We believe we now have one of the most successful marketing operations in the country,'' he said.

Does Evans believe ''the Showplace of the Nation'' will be here another half century?

''We certainly can't make any guarantees,'' he says, but ''we're doing all we know to ensure that it [will].''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.