'Radio City Christmas Spectacular' Courts Controversy
Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring The Rockettes
Directed & Staged by Dennis Callahan; Original Production Directed & Choreographed by Linda Haberman; Scenic Designer, Patrick Fahey; Costume Designers, Gregg Barnes, Pete Menefee; Lighting Designer, David Agress; Sound Designer, Daniel Gerhard; Musical Arranger/Supervisor, Mark Hummel; Musical Director, Michael Orland; Writer & Original Lyrics, Mark Waldrop; Original Music, Mark Hummel, Billy Stritch; Production Stage Manager, Ritchard Druther; Assistant Choreographers, Annie Gibbons-Syke, Maya Pingle
The Rockettes: Samantha Beary Burns, Bethany Blanchard, Nirine S. Brown, Mary Cavett, Jennifer Clavin, Jennifer K. Fait, Katelyn Gaffney, Alexa Glover, Courtney Michelle Grassia, Talese Hunt, Lisa Jantzie, Nicole Jones, Stephanie Madden, Kerry Margolin, Amber CameRon Miller, Corey Whalen, AlIna Williams, Raley Zofko, Emily Blanchard, Laura Danelski, Kristina Larson-Hauk, Annie Gibbons-Syke
CAST: Santa...John Paul Almon; Mrs. Claus...Crista Moore; Elves: Matthew Gogin, Lauren Webnar, Nathan Webnar, Mitzi Y. Evans; Clara...Madeleine Gardella, Maria May; ENSEMBLE: Jennifer Jong, Lara Moffett Menard, Meredith Ostrowsky, Emily Hayes Perucca, Katie Rustowicz, Staci Wilkinson-De Voogt, Maya Pingle, Mathias Anderson, Evan Autio, Adam Brenner, Levi Marsman, Nick McGough, Samuel S. Turner, Julian Farinas
Performances through December 29 at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre; Box Office 866-348-9738 or www.citicenter.org/rockettes
The World Famous Radio City Rockettes star in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular which returns to Boston after a four-year absence. While it lives up to the letter of what is promised, this touring version falls short in the spirit department. The acclaimed line of dancers is half the length of that seen in New York with eighteen versus thirty-six pairs of legs; much to the chagrin of the local musicians' union, recorded music takes the place of a live orchestra; and, sorry Citi PAC, but Radio City Music Hall, you ain't.
That said, even with a smaller troupe, The Rockettes are an amazing group of precision dancers worth seeing, who characteristically clasp their arms around each other's waists, kick their legs to the exact same height twenty or thirty times in succession, and think nothing of it. Oh, and they smile and breathe the whole time, too. They perform in seven scenes with the accompanying number of quick costume changes, but you'll never see them sweat. In the opening number "Sleighride," the dancers are dressed to resemble reindeer and their movements cleverly evoke those of the graceful animals. My favorite scene is "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," a meticulously executed military marching routine that has been featured in the Christmas show yearly since 1933. Rhythmic tap dancing is featured in the new "Twelve Days of Christmas," and we get to sightsee in Manhattan Rockettes-style in "Christmas in New York."
The Rockettes are not the only hoofers in the cast. There are a dozen other men and women who add to the festivities by singing and dancing in front of seasonal settings, from Macy's to Rockefeller Center, as well as a menagerie of dancing toys, snowmen, and plush teddy bears. Speaking of menagerie, "The Living Nativity," which also debuted in 1933, includes two camels, four sheep, and a donkey (they don't dance), and the ensemble parades across the stage and down the aisles in beautifully decorated robes and headdresses. Colorful costumes, sets, and lighting are on display throughout the show.
If that was all the Christmas Spectacular offered, I'd be mollified. However, because it is a big holiday production, the appearance of Santa Claus is de rigeur, especially for the children in the audience. If he only rode in on his sleigh, uttered a few ho, ho, ho's, and went on his way, that would suffice. Unfortunately, Santa must have been attending Toastmasters International because he is assigned the role of Master of Ceremonies. In addition to singing and dancing with his elves and Mrs. Claus, St. Nick spews a lot of tacky banter as filler between the musical numbers. He looks the part, but there's something creepy about him when he ventures into the audience to select a little girl to join him onstage for "The Nutcracker" ballet sequence, and there's entirely too much focus on him.
My chief gripe with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is that by virtue of its name (and top ticket prices), it raises expectations that are impossible to meet when a major component of the production is canned. At this level, if the goal is to please the whole family, the entertainment needs to be fresh and vibrant and in the moment. These talented dancers deserve that support, and the two little girls who went to the show with me deserve to experience truly live theater. They are tomorrow's paying customers.
Photo Courtesy of Madison Square Garden Entertainment (The Radio City Rockettes)