For a Christmas show which will awe and put one into the holiday spirit, the current Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is second to none.
The famous New York City venue in grand Art Deco style currently has a production featuring the famous dancing Rockettes, who have been entertaining audiences at Radio City since 1933. The production is an agreeable mixture of Broadway extravaganza, ballet, an orchestral concert, nostalgia fest, love letter to New York City and religious pageant recalling the nativity narrative from the Gospels. It is a marriage of vintage Christmas stage entertainment and state-of-the-art technology with its visuals and animation.
After two theatre organists perform Christmas melodies, the show starts with a New Year’s Eve-style countdown followed by a medley of Christmas carols and tunes played to perfection by the full orchestra.
The orchestra shifts deftly from symphonic moments accompanying an abbreviated version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet to big band and Latin stylistics on some of the more secular songs of Christmas. Without changing styles completely, the musicians are even able to sample Paul McCartney’s “Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” in Broadway-style. As the orchestra plays, spotlights show the brass instruments to full advantage so that they look somewhat like Christmas bells.
The Rockettes also perform in various styles and to differing genres of music – Irish dancing gives way to routines to Christmas light classical staples such as “Babes in Toyland” and “March of the Wooden Soldiers.”
The latter number, in particular, shows the phenomenal balancing skills and military precision of the stunning Rockettes. In “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the audience viewed the Rockettes’ in arch-typical form, with their unison high precision kicks in a chorus line and dressed in outfits evoking Christmas candy canes.
Radio City Music Hall is not only a concert venue but a cinema, and this is witnessed in abundance in a 3D film, which is shown of Santa Claus flying on his sleigh through New York and then landing at Radio City Music Hall. In fact, such references to Christmas in New York abound throughout the show.
This reviewer was only in New York City for Radio City’s 90-minute show but experienced the Statue of Liberty vicariously, Central Park, shop windows of New York stores, and some of New York’s landmark skyscrapers, as all are referenced in the video, animation and stage sets throughout the show.
A delightful moment features the Rockettes on a bus with computer-animated imagery taking the audience through much of Manhattan.
While there is much in the Christmas Spectacular, which resembles a Broadway musical, the only part of the production which has an extended plot and dialogue is about a boy searching for a gift for his sister. His older brother does not believe in Santa Claus, but through the “Magic of Christmas,” Santa proves gifts come from the heart by teleporting himself and the two brothers to the North Pole. In what we take to be another New York City reference, a skyscraper of presents is opened to search out just the right one for the sister.
A very clever routine of the show to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” includes an explanation as to why there are multiple Santas in different stores as well as Santas ringing Salvation Army bells everywhere on street corners.
Without spoiling children’s belief in Santa Claus, Santa explains that he can be in different locations at the same time. During this number, many Santas are shown multiplied onto the stage, and finally, even more Santas are projected onto the screen and walls via computer animation.
For those who feel that something is missing with a purely secular vision of Christmas (that of shopping, Santa and chorus girls dressed in red and green), there is also a deeply religious part of the show which recalls the first Christmas. Here much pageantry is present as camels appear in the show bearing the Wise Men in a nativity scene. Shepherds watch, and a large star appears high in the background. Finally, we see Mary, Joseph and the manger scene in the full costume of the Mediterranean biblical world.
For some, the Christmas tradition may be watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on television while the characters ice skate. For others, it may be watching the Russian and Chinese dances of the Nutcracker. For still others, Christmas means carolers and, of course, the birth of Jesus Christ. To see a splashy version of whatever tradition you follow, come to New York City’s Radio City Music Hall! The production closes on Jan. 5.