Radio City Rockettes Director and Choreographer Julie Branam on Bringing the Iconic Line to the Hallmark Channel
Julie Branam’s professional life is full of full-circle moments: The former Rockette has directed and choreographed Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular since 2014. But in January of this year, even Branam was surprised to find herself chatting again with perennial screen siren Ann-Margret—behind whom Branam had danced as a Rockette in 1991.
That reunion happened on the set of A Holiday Spectacular, the Radio City Rockettes’ Hallmark Channel movie debut. Premiering Sunday, November 27, the movie follows a late-1950s Philadelphia heiress who sneaks off to New York City so she can follow her dream of—what else?—performing with the iconic line.
How much dancing can we expect to see in the film?
We filmed a number called “Christmas Dreams,” which is not in the Christmas Spectacular, but which the Rockettes performed for the 2021 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s got a swing, big-band feel that I thought matched the movie’s 1950s setting. That, and the kickline from a number called “Christmas in New York” that is also not currently in the show. That was meant to be an encore number they can splice into the movie wherever it’s needed.
We also did greatest hits from “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” which of course has been in the Spectacular since its inception. I tried to pack in the biggest bang for your buck, with everything I thought would look best on film.
The movie’s director, John Putch, loved to tap when he was at summer camp, so he wanted some tap, as well. I went to the Rockettes’ archives and found music and costumes that I liked from a non-tap number, “Up on the Housetop.” I made the x’s on the page for what I thought the formation should be, and then my associate choreographer Hannah Sides came up with the tap steps. They shot part of that with the Rockettes facing upstage, with the camera looking downstage out at the beautiful house of Radio City Music Hall. It was lit so beautifully that it felt like such a “pinch-me” moment.
Two of the Rockettes have speaking roles in A Holiday Spectacular. Can you tell us about that?
I had nothing to do with who was chosen for speaking parts, but I know there were several Rockettes who auditioned for the casting director, and that two were really excited to be chosen. Their characters will show the camaraderie of the line. I was a Rockette a very long time ago, and I am still friends with a lot of the people I was in line with. We’ve gone on to other careers, but we still stay in touch. That sisterhood bond, and the importance of following your dreams, are big parts of the movie.
In hopes of diversifying the line, the Rockettes continue to foster relationships with diverse dance organizations; have recently overhauled its weeklong feeder program to be tuition-free, expenses-paid and by invitation only; and expanded the height range from 5′ 6″–5′ 10.5″ to 5′ 5″–5′ 10.5″. Are these changes having the desired effect?
This is something we’re investing in, so it’s not going to happen overnight. It’ll be a multiyear process. In the 2022 open calls, there were people that I’ve now got my eye on. I hope we can continue to represent by bringing in the best dancers. The Rockettes aren’t for everybody. Some people want to be soloists! But other people really thrive in this environment, and I can’t wait to see a line that looks like the world.