Broadway casts, Dolly Parton, more stars to perform at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2020
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will be turned into a TV-only event, featuring performances from Broadway casts and Dolly Parton. USA TODAY
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade celebration is still happening this year.
But, like pretty much every other tradition and institution that has continued in 2020, it will look and feel a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 94th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will air from 9 a.m. to noon ET Thursday, Nov. 26, on NBC. While the festivities have historically drawn massive crowds to the streets of Manhattan — there were about 3.5 million in-person spectators along the 2.5-mile parade route in 2019 — this year all activity will be focused on the Herald Square area of Midtown, and the only way to watch will be on television.
“For New Yorkers who typically see it live and in person, this change for them is that they are going to experience it the same way the rest of the country experiences it," said Susan Tercero, executive producer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. "But I think for the rest of country, it’s not going to be too different.
"They’re still going to see the balloons. They’re still going to see the floats. They’re still going to see Santa and Broadway and all of these elements that they’re used to seeing every single year. They’re still going to see those things. They might have some differences in that we’re going to see some social distancing. We’re going to have masks, things like that. But it’s still going to be the parade they know and love.”
Viewers will also be able to see a cavalcade of stars: country icon Dolly Parton, soul legend Patti LaBelle, "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks and "Hamilton" Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. are among the event's scheduled performers.
In addition, dancers from the New York City Ballet and the casts of Broadway shows "Hamilton," "Jagged Little Pill," "Ain't Too Proud" and "Mean Girls" will perform, marking a return to the spotlight following Broadway's COVID-caused shutdown in mid-March.
Behind the scenes, parade organizers will be taking plenty of safety precautions, Tercero said.
The 2019 parade had between 8,000 and 10,000 participants including performers, staff and balloon handlers. The workforce this year will be cut by around 70% to less than 2,000 people who will film segments over two days — with some segments filmed Wednesday, Nov. 25, and the majority of the action airing live on Thanksgiving.
There will be staggered call times, social distancing on site, masks and wellness checks, with the production following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Additionally, no parade participants this year will be younger than 18, and previously-selected high school and college marching bands will perform in 2021 while locally-based professional marching and musical ensembles will be heard this year, according to a news release.
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The parade's larger character balloons, typically anchored by 80 to 100 trained handlers and a vehicle, will now be anchored by five specially-rigged vehicles.
Speaking of the balloons, the 2020 parade will offer plenty of new attractions for viewers, including a 48-feet-tall inflatable "Boss Baby" and Red Titan from the YouTube series "Ryan's World."
There also will be parade floats for animated legends Tom and Jerry ahead of their 2021 return to the silver screen; the new "Christmas in Town Square" float inspired by Lifetime's "It's a Wonderful Lifetime" holiday film extravaganza; and "Her Future is STEMsational," a float presented by Olay celebrating women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
While Macy's has been known for nearly a century for bringing folks together in New York City around the holidays, Tercero explained why the parade had to continue in one fashion or another during this most trying year.
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"Our events are all about giving back to people, celebrating traditions, celebrating American history and American holidays," she said. "And it was really important, we thought, not just for Macy’s, but then when we look at the city of New York that has gone through so much and been so resilient and has come out of so many things but has also had to see a lot events and a lot of thing canceled, we felt we had an obligation to New York.
"But then we also felt beyond that we had an obligation to the country to continue with this very important tradition, especially in a year where things are looking and feeling so different for everybody. Families are not able to gather as much as they would and everything is feeling very remote, and even how people get their entertainment and how they spend their holidays and things like that. With how all of that is changing, we felt ... it was really important to try to deliver, as much as we can, what people are expecting on Thanksgiving morning.”
For more details on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, visit macys.com/social/parade.
Alex Biese has been writing about art, entertainment, culture and news on a local and national level for more than 15 years.