Rockette Courtney Grassia performs in ‘Radio City Christmas Spectacular’
When The Radio City Rockettes light up the stage at The Wang Theatre all this month with their new “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” there’ll be a Boston-area native front and center. Courtney Grassia, born in Medford and a resident of Somerville when she’s not on tour, has been dancing as a Rockette since 2006. Having trained at the Donna Miceli Dance Center in Lowell, she has been seen locally in such Reagle Music Theatre shows as “Hello, Dolly!,” “No, No Nanette” (with Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie) and “La Cage aux Folles,” among others. A magna cum laude graduate with a BFA in Dance from the University of Arizona, Courtney also traveled half way around the world to perform at Tokyo Disneyland.
We spoke recently by phone about her work and her return to Boston. This marks her second season at The Wang with the Radio City holiday show.
BIR: So what’s the process like when someone auditions to become a Rockette?
CG: It’s a very intense audition process actually. When I went to New York with a couple of my friends after I graduated from college, I remember getting to the audition about an hour early, and there were already about a hundred girls ahead of me. At ten o’clock, when the doors opened to start the audition, there were girls wrapped around Radio City Music Hall. Hundreds of girls. You know, all tall and beautiful and talented – just like you, right? (she laughs)
BIR: Were you there all day?
CG:It’s essentially a two-day audition. We went in groups of about 75 into this room and we learned a jazz combination from the show and a tap combination. Then right after that, they made cuts. If you got cut, you got shuffled into another room and had to wait while the whole process went on with the other 500 girls behind you. It was a long day.
BIR: And what happened on Day Two?
CG:If you’re called back, you go back and do pretty much the same thing all over again.
BIR: How many dancers made the final cut?
CG: I think at the end of the day there were 20 or 30 of us left . . . And they say “Thank you, ladies, we’ll be in contact with you.” I auditioned in May and I didn’t get a phone call until August that I had gotten the job. It was a very anxious period. You’re just waiting for that call every day. But when I got the call, I think I screamed out loud. I remember calling my Mom right away and she screamed, too. It was an incredible, incredible moment.
BIR: When the Rockettes are in formation on stage, you all look to be the same size. Is there a strict height requirement?
CG:You need to be between five-six and five-ten-and-a half. The illusion when we’re kicking … is that they put the taller ladies in the center and the less tall ladies at the end. So it looks like we’re all the same height when we’re doing our world famous eye-high kicks.
BIR: The Rockettes represent a real show business tradition. Is it exciting to be a part of that, or a little overwhelming?
CG:It’s so humbling to know that the Radio City Christmas Spectacular has been around so long . . . The Rockettes started in 1925. They moved to Radio City in 1933, and I mean, we’re still doing some of the original numbers, like “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity.” It’s almost like you’re carrying this torch of an American legacy . . . It’s very humbling and it’s incredible to be a part of something so much larger than yourself.
BIR: “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” must require a lot of strength to master that slow-motion fall at the end.
CG:Incredible strength, yes. We actually take a day of rehearsal just doing the fall. It’s one of the most incredible aspects of the show, and we always get the biggest applause for that fall . . . It’s a great moment.
BIR: So when did you begin working on this year’s show?
CG:We started October 5. We rehearsed three and a half weeks, six hours a day, six days a week.
BIR: What can you share about the new things audiences will see at The Wang this year?
CG:This is actually the largest production Radio City has ever conceived in a theatrical setting . . . We have a 50-foot state-of-the-art LED screen throughout the entire show that will transport audiences from Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole to New York City.
BIR: Do you have a favorite number among the new elements?
CG:One of my favorite moments in the show is called “New York at Christmas.” The Rockettes are dancing onboard a life-size double-decker bus that actually rotates. The wheels spin, and behind us the LED screen is taking you through New York City with us. We pass Rockefeller Center, we end up in Times Square, and then we get off the bus and do a fabulous number – new choreography and costumes – and it ends with our world famous eye-high kicks, of course. And it’s snowing on stage. It’s a wonderful, wonderful show for the young and the young at heart.
BIR: It has to be gratifying to be performing in your hometown before a lot of family and friends.
CG:There are no words to describe how excited I am to come back. Just to perform at the Wang. I grew up going to shows there. It’s a beautiful theater – I think it’s one of the most beautiful theaters I’ve ever performed in. And I’ve performed around the county with this show now.
BIR: Any special family holiday plans this year?
CG:Last year I brought all the girls to my house – my Mom had a little party for all the Rockettes. So we’ll probably do the same, because a lot of the girls won’t be able go home or have their families come here. So we’ll kind of adopt them for the holidays.
BIR: Speaking of family, before I let you go, what can you tell me about your Irish heritage?
CG:Both of my grandmothers are 100 percent Irish and my grandfathers are both 100 percent Italian. So I’m 50 - 50 . . . (she says with a laugh). I have the light skin, the freckles and the blue eyes.
R. J. Donovan is publisher of OnStageBoston.com.