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Thursday, 24 November 2016 16:59

Radio City Music Hall Welcomes Canada’s Kaylee Harwood

Written by  Dennis Kucherawy
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Song & Script Scoop

Acclaimed Broadway and

Stratford/Shaw Festival vet,

Kaylee Harwood, debuts as

Mrs. Santa Claus in

Christmas Spectacular

Show stars renowned Radio City Rockettes

Get ready “the showplace of the nation,” “the palace for the people!” A gorgeous and talented Canadian from the Great White North has arrived to join in thrilling and entertaining New Yorkers and tourists for the holidays.

 

Triple-threat Kaylee Harwood is making her Radio City Music Hall debut in one of the world’s most famous theatres.  If you can say “you’ve hit the big time,” this is it, performing on a gargantuan stage and auditorium with more than 6,000 seats.  It’s certainly a change from Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace where, this past July, she performed in the Fringe Festival hit “Life After,” a musical by popular composer/lyricist Britta Johnson.

Even more intimate is the AGO’s iRichard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery where she appeared this past April in Acting Up Stage Company’s popular “Reframed.”  Essentially, it was an original, 20-minute chamber musical inspired by a painting on display there.

Now, she’s returned to the Big Apple, where she made her Broadway debut in 2012 in the Stratford Festival’s Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  She danced in the show and understudied fellow Canadian Chilina Kennedy in the role of Mary Magdalene.

More than one million people each year attend the Christmas spectacular. Calling it New York’s “most over-the-top tradition,” the New York Times enthused that “seasonal cheer” floods the 2016 production, “from the score’s wall-to-wall holiday hits to the ubiquitous presence of a certain portly, red-suited gentleman…

“While the show integrates high-tech innovations like a 3-D sequence, intricate animated projections scrolling over the walls and ceiling, and dronelike snowflakes that fly (somewhat menacingly) above the audience, its appeal remains delightfully human.

“Even in tight unison, the Rockettes are not a machine but a single organism constantly shifting and recombining its constituent elements.  They can be goofy clowns, as in the `Rag Dolls’ number, or they can be sexy showgirls, as in `Let It Snow.”’

A highlight, the Times said, was the classic “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and the Nativity scene, the only two leftovers from the 1933 premiere production: “Russell Markert’s original choreography makes abstraction mesmerizingly beautiful as it puts the Euclidean space in motion.  That’s a holiday miracle we can all agree on.”

Kaylee took a break from her busy schedule to chat with Song & Script:

What is it like performing on that huge stage and in that huge auditorium since you opened?

November 15th was the official opening night of the Christmas Spectacular.

Radio City Music Hall holds approximately 6,200 people and takes up an entire city block. It is by far the largest stage I’ve ever performed on and it's actually the largest indoor theatre in the world. My first step on stage was breathtaking and it was amazing to see the three elevators that make up the stage deck. It is pure theatre magic!

Have you ever seen a show at Radio City when you were younger?  If yes, what was your impression?

I have never seen a show there, but my high school dance team came to New York for a festival and we took the tour of Radio City through the grand lounge and the theater. I can remember touching the red, upholstered seats and wondering how they stayed so pristine. I took hundreds of photos on that tour. We met a Rockette, and my first question to her was “How tall are Rockettes?” With her answer of “at least 5’6” in stocking feet,” I learned I could not be in the running, barring some late-puberty growth spurt. I was crestfallen! At that time, I had been a competitive dancer since the age of four and it seemed like becoming a Rockette was an ultimate achievement.

Tell me how you got the role of Mrs. Claus?  When did you audition?

I came to New York in May to audition and get inspired between shows in Toronto.  I saw the open call posted. I went to the general audition and lined up for a time, sang my songs, went to a callback and heard back soon after that when I was back in Toronto. I was ecstatic! I didn’t know the role of Mrs. Claus was even on the table in the audition, but it was offered as part of my contract. A “Claus” Clause, if you will.

Tell me about the story involving Mrs. Claus?  Is she a traditional one, or a modern one like in the new commercial with a stylish Mrs. Claus played by Janet McTeer of Broadway’s LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES?

We don’t know much about the secret life of Mrs. Claus, do we? She’s so open to interpretation, and I’m having great fun. The scene/songs I appear in are some of the most beautiful and whimsical of the show.  My gorgeous costume gives me so much to work with. I am certainly dressed in festive colors!

How does Mrs. Claus fit into the Radio City Christmas show?

There’s a through-line about a couple of brothers who meet Santa and get whisked away to the North Pole on a quest for the perfect gift. Upon their magical arrival, Mrs. Claus is there to greet them and put them to work! I also ride in on a Christmas train - a first for me!

It’s said you are a featured vocalist.  How many songs do you sing and what are they?

I feel so lucky to get to sing a whole range of traditional holiday songs and original tunes. I’m blown away by the intricacy of these arrangements and the subtle themes of well-known carols and songs woven throughout.

There are five other singers, all of whom are sublimely talented.  We carry the vocal lines of the show. One of my favorite arrangements is a beautiful Rockettes dance piece called “Snow” at the end of the show. It’s an original piece mixed with themes and words from “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Let It Snow” and other songs in exquisite harmony. It gives me goosebumps just thinking of what it feels like to sing it.

How many shows do you have a week?  Is it taxing?

So far, so good. The load varies from week to week. Some people may not know there are actually two full casts of more than 70 each, so that the show can run every day and the casts can rotate days off. I’m so in love with the whole experience and watching how it all gets put together that I truly haven’t noticed if I’m taxed yet! Now that we are open, the schedule will ramp up more in the weeks after Thanksgiving. Honestly, the joyful energy around the building and radiating from that enormous audience is giving me all the boost I need!

What’s it like working with the famous Rockettes?  Are they giving you “kick” lessons?

I am in absolute awe of these women and their dance captains. The first day the ensemble and Rockettes were rehearsing in the same room, I watched them run their numbers, I was gob smacked. 36 women in perfect unison, kicking to the the exact same height, with their heads and arms at the exact same angles… tears fell instantly. It’s humbling to witness these truly athletic women at the height of their discipline; some of them are in their 10th or even 20th seasons! They perform with such acute awareness of each other, such intricacy, demonstrating unparalleled ease and grace and such agility of dance styles.

Have you ever spent Christmas in New York before?  If no, are you looking forward to it?

I’ve never been in New York for Christmas, so I’m thrilled to experience it. There are so many traditions that I can just feel the city’s collective consciousness is waiting for. Already, the enormous tree is up a block away at Rockefeller Center and the ice rink has been in full swing since I arrived in October. I feel like New York City is where the Christmas we are all familiar with was invented: all the classic movies, songs, stores and images. Speaking of skating, I can’t wait to test out all the rinks in the city, though I have a feeling Central Park will win out.

On Broadway, you understudied Chilina Kennedy’s Mary Magdalene in “JC Superstar.” Does that role have anything in common with Mrs. Claus?

I did understudy Mary Magdalene! And, in fact, I just made the connection the other day that due to the appearance of the baby Jesus in the Living Nativity portion of our Christmas Spectacular, my work in New York thus far has a full-circle element to it. A photo from rehearsal circulated on the Radio City channels a few weeks ago, where my arms were outstretched in a moment reminiscent of my “JCS choreography.” That's probably about as far as the commonalities go. Perhaps, also, the giant LED screens used in both productions that provide unrivaled visual feasts!

What roles lie ahead for you after Radio City?  I bet the exposure will lead to some other great parts.  What would you love to play?  Carole King in BEAUTIFUL? (I think you’d be a natural. Do you play piano?) The show WAITRESS?

Do you mean a "natural woman?” I do play piano and that is certainly a dream part. There are many bucket-list roles for me still, but I’m so happy to see where I go and what happens as it happens. My goal is to continue to have a career on both sides of the border in work that I find engaging and challenging. I had the chance to do several exciting new projects in Toronto earlier this year, and I’d love to see them all gain traction!

What did Christmas mean to you growing up in Vancouver?

I actually lived in London, Ontario until I was nine - so when we eventually moved to Vancouver, I had to get used to Christmases without snow.

We had loads of traditions and decorations. My mom’s side of the family belonged to the Salvation Army Church, so I was involved from a young age collecting for the Christmas Kettles and playing cornet in the brass band. My mom was great at filling the house with music and delicious smells.

I’m the eldest child of long-divorced parents, and I think I took on a bit of the magic-making role for my brother when we were young. He and I always traveled over the holidays, as my parents had three prairies between them, and I relished my grown-up role leading him around and keeping him entertained.

What did your parents do to make it special?

All my mom had to do was play Amy Grant’s “A Christmas Album” tape on repeat and I was in the holiday spirit. With my dad, it was the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Did Mrs. Claus play a role in it?

Not particularly, but I always figured there was more to the woman behind the mystery of Claus.

In your current portrayal of Mrs. Claus, do you draw from any of those happy memories?

Certainly! The whole show is a nostalgic feast! I can’t help but be drawn into the excitement and sparkle of it all. You feel the joy and magic as soon as you step into Radio City.

About Radio City Music Hall: “An American People’s Palace”

-       From radiocity.com.

To date, more than 300 million people have visited Radio City Music hall to enjoy stage shows and movies, concerts and special events.  Its auditorium measures 160 feet from back to stage and the ceiling reaches 84 feet.  The walls and ceiling are formed by a series of sweeping arches that define a splendid and immense curving space.  Choral staircases rise up the sides toward the back wall.  Actors can enter there to bring live action right into the house.

Every seat in Radio City Music Hall is a good seat.  There are no columns to obstruct views.  Three shallow mezzanines provide comfortable seating without looming over the rear Orchestra section below.

The Great Stage is framed by a huge proscenium arch that measures 60 feet high and 100 feet wide.  Technical experts consider the stage to be the most perfectly equipped in the world.  It is comprised of three sections mounted on hydraulic-powered elevators.  They make it possible to create dynamic sets and achieve spectacular staging effects.  A fourth elevator raises and lowers the entire orchestra.  Within the perimeter of the elevators is a turntable that can be used for quick scene changes and special stage effects.

Throughout its history, the Hall has hosted the world’s most popular entertainers.  They include Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Linda Ronstadt, Liberace, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ann-Margaret, Ray Charles, BB King and many others. Today, it continues to attract shows starring Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder and the Celtic dance spectacular “Riverdance.”

 

Information:

Radio City Music Hall’s 2016 “Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes” plays until Jan. 2nd.  For tickets, phone 1-866-858-0007.  Visit rockettes.com/Christmas.  Running time is 90 minutes.

By Dennis Kucherawy

Last modified on Sunday, 27 November 2016 22:15
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