Clad in penguin costumes, three young performers who originally are from Maine will dance for 50 million people during the 84th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Joined by 57 other penguins, they will usher in the one and only Santa Claus.
Antoine Gerow, 23, of Bangor, Grace Livingston, 24, of Veazie and Lindsay Bridges, 22, of Bucksport are members of The Young Americans, a nonprofit music education group based in Holly-wood, Calif. Their performance will punctuate the end of the long procession of giant balloons, festive floats, marching bands, celebrities, acrobats and clowns.
The parade airs 9 a.m.-noon Thursday, Nov. 25, on NBC.
“I’m pretty sure this will be one of the things people will talk about — the showstoppers. How many times do you see 60 penguins dancing down the street?” said Brooke Robinson, publicist for The Young Americans, in a phone interview.
The Young Americans have only performed in the parade one other time, 40 years ago. This year, Robinson pitched the idea to Macy’s. The store decided to place the young performers in one of the most honorable positions in the parade.
After singing and dancing the entire route, they’re scheduled to reach Macy’s at 11:29 a.m., and have been given a minute and half to complete their “Winter Wonderland” performance on national television.
“What we’re doing for the cameras is the most intense minute ever,” Gerow said in a phone interview. Octavius Womack, better known to Young Americans as “O,” will open “Winter Wonderland” as the main singer.
The number is from “The Magic of Christmas” show they perform each December at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in California. The Warner Bros. animation “Happy Feet” inspired them as they put together their routine with dances from hip-hop to ballet. The dancers alternate facing and turning away from the audience, flashing their white bellies and black backs.
For the 2.5-mile parade march, they’ll perform a variety of dances to holiday tunes. They worked on their stamina so they could repeat their routines as many times as necessary.
“We’re putting a hip-hop feel on some standard Christmas carols,” said Livingston in a phone interview. “It’s going to be the first time doing swing in penguin suits for us.”
For comfort and better traction, the penguins will all be wearing Converse sneakers. The tap dancing will be recorded ahead of time and played with the songs.
“All that’s showing are our faces. We have a beak on our foreheads,” said Livingston. “The costumes are great. They’re pretty fun to be in. We actually had brand new ones made for Macy’s — they’re as white as white can be.”
Beginning at New York City’s 77th Street, the parade marches south on Central Park West, then Central Park South, 7th Avenue, 42nd Street, 6th Avenue, and 34th Street, ending at Harold Square.
“We’re the last thing, and hopefully everybody will be watching,” Livingston said.
“It’s unreal. I watch the parade every year with my family when I can,” Gerow said.
Originally known as the Macy’s Christmas Parade, the Thanksgiving Day Parade was started in 1924 by a small group of Macy’s employees. The employees dressed in costume and marched from Harlem to Harold Square with zoo animals, floats and bands in tow. It was such a success that Macy’s declared it would become an annual event.
In 1927, giant helium balloons were added to the procession, and in 1947, the event was televised nationally for the first time. Today, more than 8,000 people participate, about 3 million people line the street and more than 44 million watch the parade on NBC.
This year, giant balloons will include newer cartoon characters, such as Kung Fu Panda and the elephant Horton, in addition to the traditional Snoopy and Mickey Mouse. Celebrities including Jessica Simpson, Kanye West and Arlo Guthrie will join the procession.
After the parade, The Young Americans will board their bus and shed their penguin feathers on the drive to the airport to catch a flight back to California.
“We should be able to get home to eat dinner by 10 or 11 — a late dinner,” Gerow said.
The Young Americans was founded by Milton C. Anderson almost 50 years ago in Hollywood, Calif. Anderson, 85, continues to act as the organizations director and has been attending rehearsals for the parade performance.
“They used to be very famous in the 60s and 70s. In fact, the director [Anderson] is credited with inventing the whole glee concept,” Robinson said. “The popularity of the TV show is so funny to us because we’ve been doing it for 50 years.”
The group’s mission is to bring musical education to children and young adults worldwide.
More than 150,000 students from 11 countries have participated in workshops taught by Young Americans during their International Music Outreach Tours. In addition to workshops, Young Americans teach summer camps and perform dinner theaters and concerts.
Livingston has been with The Young Americans since she graduated Bangor High School in 2004. She’s taught on 11 music outreach tours to places including the United Kingdom, Japan, Russia, Poland, Gibraltar and east coast United States.
The three-day, comprehensive music outreach workshop teaches vocal technique, dance, comedy improvisation and the technical aspects of stage performance. The end of the workshop is punctuated by a show put on by The Young Americans and students.
The Young Americans have visited Maine high schools many times in the past. They are scheduled to visit several locations throughout Maine for two weeks next September.
“The Young Americans are incredible,” said Gerow. “I wish that more people would get involved with the East Coast tours coming in the fall.”
For information on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, visit social.macys.com/parade2010/ or call the Parade Hotline at (212) 494-4495.