Local teen to perform with Santa in 83rd annual Macy's Parade
When Catherine Chiocchi watches the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year, she will fast-forward to the final act. But unlike most youngsters who will watch with wide-eyed anticipation for the arrival of a jolly man in a red-and-white-trimmed suit, Chiocchi will scan the television screen for a glimpse of herself.
The 16-year-old NCHS junior is one of 67 singers and dancers cast by Macy's Parade scouts and Stagedoor Manor performing arts camp to perform in the revamped finale of the 83rd annual Thanksgiving morning tradition. When Santa Claus arrives in front of the Macy's flagship store in a brand-new sleigh float to kick off the urban jazz number, Chiocchi will be belting and boogying at his side.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to tell my grandchildren that I was in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," Chiocchi said.
A six-year veteran camper at Stagedoor Manor summer arts camp for youths in Lock Sheldrake, N.Y., Chiocchi was selected for a slot in the ensemble by camp director Konnie Kittrell from a stack of 420 applications scribbled with pleas like, "Oh, my god, I have to do this! I've watched the parade my whole life! Please!"
Macy's scouts, one of whom is a former Stagedoor Manor camper, gave Kittrell an exclusive opportunity to fill the cast with her troupe after visiting the center this summer.
Chiocchi, Kittrell said, was hand-picked for the ensemble because she is a strong, bright dancer with an unwavering work ethic.
Chiocchi's fellow cast members, ages 10 to 18, represent 22 states and three countries. The gang arrived in New York this weekend to begin rehearsals -- 35 hours of choreography drills, blocking and costuming jammed into the four short days leading to the holiday broadcast.
On leave from school this week, the group must learn and polish an urban-influenced street dance designed by Stagedoor Manor choreographer Corrin Miller before Thursday.
Miller, Kittrell said, traveled from her home in London to choreograph the number for the famous broadcast before admitting that she had never heard of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. After a few hours watching YouTube videos of past Macy's Parades, Kittrell said, Miller began to grasp the privilege of her role.
The finale song is called "I Believe," an original work written for the occasion with hip-hop and jazz influences. Kittrell, who has performed in the parade herself as a Rockette, describes the piece as an anthem to childhood innocence.
"I believe in love because I believe in Santa Claus," the cast will sing. And they will rap, too: "S-A-N-T-A, that jolly old man is coming our way!"
"It's very stirring," Kittrell said. "It sort of makes your skin tingle."
Millions of Americans will watch the performance live from their living rooms while their turkey dinners roast in the oven -- or, at least, that's Chiocchi's hope.
"The parade has to end at noon and we're the last thing at 11:55, so if something goes wrong and the parade goes off-schedule, we might not even be on TV," Chiocchi said.
"Right after Macy's there's always that dog show that comes on at 12 p.m.," she said, adding, "That would be insulting to have a poodle take our air-time away. But I think it will be fine. It will go off without a hitch."
Standing 5 feet tall, Chiocchi hopes her small size will peg her a space in the forefront of the cast during blocking rehearsals. Her diminutive frame, she thinks, will help her secure face time on-screen.
Despite four hectic days filled with rehearsal and makeup homework from missed classes and no air-time guarantee, Chiocchi says it's worth the work for the chance to slip back into summer.
"It's going to be just bliss, I bet, because [the other performers] are like family to me, so to get to be with them for a week again in the middle of the year is going to be like a week of summer."
If all goes well this year, Macy's might slate Stagedoor Manor campers for the finale number next year, too.
"[Macy's] wants their viewers to have something new to look forward to," Kittrell said. "This year we are lucky to be it. We are over the moon."