Taking This Job "Re-Ignited My Love for Broadway" — Get to Know the Woman Behind the Macy's Parade

News   Taking This Job "Re-Ignited My Love for Broadway" — Get to Know the Woman Behind the Macy's Parade
 
Playbill.com digs into its archives to explore past articles for a Throwback Thursday treat. In the next installment, we look back at our 2014 interview with Amy Kule, the executive producer of the Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, as she readied for last year's big day — complete with Broadway numbers, balloons and her very own pink dress designed by a Tony winner for the occasion. 

Amy Kule
Amy Kule

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"I cut the ribbon and then I lead the parade all the way down to 34th St.," says Kule. With 16 balloon characters, 8,000 volunteers and pop stars and legendary performers like Meghan Trainor, Nick Jonas, KISS and Renée Fleming following the Long Island native from the parade's start at 77th Street and Columbus Ave. to the end at 34th St. and Seventh Ave., Kule needs to make sure she puts her best foot forward.

"I've found a very comfortable high-heeled boot that I'm able to walk in pain-free," says Kule. "I re-purchase them every year. They have to be brand new, or else it's bad luck." And since it's always chilly in New York on Thanksgiving morning, Kule needs outerwear to match the spectacles lining up behind her.

Broadway fans will be excited to learn that the "shocking pink" dress coat she will wear to cut the ribbon is made by Tony-winning costume designer William Ivey Long." "It is a real set piece," says Kule. "It's got great swing and its bright color will pop at the beginning of the parade as his costumes do at the beginning of his Broadway shows.

"Broadway is as much a part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade as the balloons, floats and marching bands," she continues. "This year I thought that I would take one more step to embrace the Broadway community by asking William Ivey Long to design the coat I'm going to wear for the ribbon cutting." According to Bill Schermerhorn, the creative director of the Macy's Parade and Entertainment Group, Long isn't the only member of the Broadway community whose work will open the parade. "Look for the three sailors [from On the Town]," advises Schermerhorn. "Everyone [had] better be up bright and early right at 9 AM."

Broadway has held a special place in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade since the cast of the 1981 production of The Pirates of Penzance was the first to perform in Herald Square during the 1980 telecast. Now the first hour of the broadcast — from 9-10 AM — is filled with numbers from current Broadway musicals while the parade marches downtown.

Tony Yazbeck in <i>On the Town</i>
Tony Yazbeck in On the Town Photo by Joan Marcus

In addition to a song from On the Town, this year's parade will include performances from Side Show, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Honeymoon in Vegas and The Last Ship as well as a preview of Peter Pan Live!, the televised event airing the following Thursday on NBC. Further down the parade line, the star of the upcoming "Annie" film remake Quvenzhané Wallis will perform with a few of her castmates from the Build-A-Bear float and Idina Menzel will sing a song from her new holiday album on the Lindt Chocolate float.

"Idina's on her way to becoming a parade legend," laughs Schermerhorn. "She first appeared in Wicked and then she sang on another float just a few years ago. I guess she likes to get up early on Thanksgiving morning."

Schermerhorn, who moved to New York City after college to become an actor, serves as a strong link between the department store and Broadway. Former parade executive producer Jean McFadden encouraged Schermerhorn join the Macy's events team when he was working as a part-time Calvin Klein underwear salesman. Throughout his 32 years at Macy's he's been able to combine his two passions by writing music that has been featured in the parade, winning him two Daytime Emmys, and sung by Broadway stars like Menzel and Julie Andrews. This year cabaret performer William Blake will perform a Thanksgiving song he wrote with Tony-nominated composer Matthew Sklar called "Give Thanks."

"Bill has been a great support to get me into the theatre," says Kule. "Since taking this job, I've re-ignited my love for Broadway. It was a door that was opened by my parents at a very young age. I remember what a treat it was to come into New York City, see a Broadway show, have dinner and feel like a grownup.

"What I love about Broadway in general is that it is one big family," says Schermerhorn, who spends Thanksgiving night at a potluck dinner thrown by Susan Lee of the Nederlander organization. "When I met Idina and Anthony Rapp back in the early Rent days, we stayed in touch and found projects that we can work together on. I think these relationships benefit both Macy's and the Broadway community."

Menzel and Rapp's latest project If/Then has yet to make an appearance in the parade, but not every show fits with the lineup. "One of the jokes that I always say [to the cast and creative team] when I go to see Broadway shows is, 'Do you have a parade number?'" laughs Schermerhorn, who along with his team at Macy's and NBC chooses the shows that will perform each year. "A parade number is a stand-alone number that's usually on the brighter side and has as many cast members as possible in it. It should also be able to translate to the street because you have to be able to take away the fancy props and the set. Also you have to consider if the number will work in the morning light and on pavement. That's what we look at when we're selecting shows and numbers from those shows."

Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, Schermerhorn, Kule and the parade's longtime director Gary Halvorson visit the participating shows' theatres where they watch the "parade numbers" and make last minute changes. Then, bright and early on Thanksgiving morning, the shows have a dress rehearsal in Herald Square so the cameras can be set. "They don't just show up on Thanksgiving and the cameras film them," says Schermerhorn. "It is well-planned and well-thought-out. We want to make Broadway look as shiny and as wonderful as it can."

Neither Kule nor Schermerhorn are able to watch the shows perform on Thanksgiving Day. Kule is busy leading the parade (This year she'll be joined by 13-year-old softball star Mo'ne Davis and her Little League World Series team the Taney Dragons) and Schermerhorn, spends the first part of the event welcoming the participants. "I get to say what has now become the legendary line: 'Please join the parade,' to every single clown group, float and marching band, while ensuring that everyone is in the right order," explains Schermerhorn.

Then he gets in a golf cart to monitor the route. "I make sure the float escorts are around the floats and that the celebrities are waving instead of using their cell phones and the marching bands are playing music," says Schermerhorn. "It's all about giving the greatest performance we can for every person who got there at 6 AM for a front row seat on the sidewalk curb. It's fun and rewarding to go up and down the route and see how these visions we've had in our head for a year now are translating to the public."

And then before they know it, a year's worth of planning is over and Santa is riding his sleigh into Herald Square. "I sometimes wish my opening night wasn't my closing night," laughs Schermerhorn. "It's a one-time thing and then it's on to the next one."

This article originally ran on Playbill.com in November 2014.

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