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Travel Article: Chicagoan in NYC for the Weekend

Full disclosure: I grew up a snowball's throw away from the Rosemont Theatre, home for many winters to the RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR's touring production. There's many a childhood memory of brunch in a hotel, pictures with Santa, followed by the latest installment of New York' sequined kick line. Now that I'm older, I realize the bulky Rosemont Theatre was merely a concrete shell housing a cherished holiday tradition. Like finding a brand new Wii wrapped in last weekend's sports section, the vessel didn't quite match the gift inside. It wouldn't be until years later that I experienced the CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR in its flagship locale, New York's Radio City Music Hall.


To say one of November 28th's matinees (they have 4 daily!) was a circus-like experience would be far too cruel ..but not entirely off point. At the brilliantly vibrant Radio City Music Hall, I felt like an old man (almost Scrooge-like) not quite know what all the hubbub was about: vendors were hocking their tchotchkes and children were running amok in wild abandon. The lobby and auditorium were madhouses filled with screeching kinders and lost tourists. But then it happened: like a snow globe's first tousle of the season, the orchestra rose from Radio City's mammoth pit and the silence from the audience settled in. Everything stopped. It really was magic.

Each and every one of the thirty-two Rockettes who danced at my performance were not only visions of holiday cheer, but beyond-talented performers dedicated to rigorous routines and painstaking precision, staged and created by Linda Haberman. With more than 1,300 lavish costumes, a handful of Nativity quadrupeds (a scene handled with gentle beauty), a cute 3D adventure through Manhattan (though not for the queasy), and a jolly Santa emcee, THE RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR is definitely worth a visit. 90 minutes of non-stop dances, smiles, songs, and snow.

AMERICAN IDIOT is a raucous, visceral, in-your-face game of musical connect the plots. Thanks to a stronger book and more moving visuals, Michael Mayer (surpassing his SPRING AWAKENING glory) and Green Day nail their new theatrical form akin to Twyla Tharp's MOVIN' OUT. Tony Award winner John Gallagher Jr., Stark Sands, and the entire ensemble offer raw, brave, head-pounding performances unlike anything else around today claiming to be a rock musical. Aided by Christine Jones' wildly imaginative set and Kevin Adams' rocking lighting (both TonyAward winners for their designs), AMERICAN IDIOT is -plain and simple- fantastic.


And what says, "Christmas in New York!" like a trip to Broadway's year-round crowd pleaser, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. More disclosure: PHANTOM left a sour taste in my mouth the first time I saw it on tour in Chicago some 15 years ago. This could have been because of our last-row-of-the-Lyric-Opera-House's-upper--upper-upper-balcony (or the fact I was 10), but I figured it was time to reevaluate how Sir Andrew & Harold Prince continue to reel in audiences after 9,500+ performances.

Long before projections took over modern set designs, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA isn't afraid of being dark when it needs to be. Not a subjective 'ooo, the material is so dark,' but an overall physical look short of full color drops. There are moments -perhaps the best moments- when Prince allows two actors and two follow-spots to illuminate the story. Minimalism being said, Maria Björnson's grand set and costume design remain stunning. Yes, Act 1 still ends with the chandelier (and I use this word loosely) 'crashing' on stage and Webber's score remains, despite what the nay-sayers say, thoroughly lush ... if not lacking in varied melodies. Oddly enough, Martin Levan's sound design, tweaked and enhanced over the years, is at times abrasive and overpowering. There were moments when Sara Jean Ford's pristine Christine was simply too much soprano to handle. But then there's Hugh Panaro, the Acting Man's Phantom. The role sung with beauty and clarity, and Panaro's acting (full of new found pain and embittered loneliness) proves there's a skilled performer behind the Phantom's infamous mask.

Finally, I was in attendance of the first preview of SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK. Since it was the very first performance after an exhausted rehearsal process, I won't write too much about what went down. All I'll say is ... you've never seen another live theatrical production like Julie Taymor's take on your friendly neighborhood webslinger.
SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK is directed by Tony Award winner Taymor (THE LION KING, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, THE TEMPEST, TITUS), features a book by Taymor & Glen Berger, has new music & lyrics by Bono and The Edge (from a little band called U2), & stars Reeve Carney (THE TEMPEST), Tony Award nominee Jennifer Damiano (NEXT TO NORMAL), and Patrick Page (HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST). Their press release states, "Drawing from over forty years of Marvel comic books for inspiration, SPIDER-MAN spins a new take on the mythic tale of a young man propelled from a modest rowhouse in Queens to the sky-scraping spire of the Chrysler Building, the bustling offices of the Daily Bugle, through the dizzying canyons of Manhattan, to new vistas never before seen." At the time of my writing this, SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK is set to open 'some time in February.'

THE RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR runs through December 31, 2010. Tickets are available online at or at the Radio City Box Office (50th Street and Avenue of the Americas). AMERICAN IDIOT currently plays at The St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street. Tickets may be purchased by visiting or by phoning 212-239-6200. For more information, visit To order tickets to PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, visit or call (212) 239-6200. For more information, visit To order tickets to SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK, visit or call (877) 250-2929. Tickets are also available at the Foxwoods Theatre. For more information, visit

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From This Author M. William Panek

M. William Panek William graduated with his BFA in Theatre Direction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Most recently, he directed The Artist's Lab at Stage 773 (read more...)

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