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Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Thanks in part to a new L.E.D. screen and those oldies-but-goodies, The Rockettes, this annual holiday show more than lives up to its name.

By New York City
The Rockettes in
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
The Rockettes in
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Gone are the days when the mere appearance of a live camel on stage would thrill and amaze the legions of folk from far and wide who made their own annual holiday pilgrimage to Radio City Music Hall. So to dazzle the crowds at this year's Radio City Christmas Spectacular, executive producer John Bonanni, director Linda Haberman, and their team have installed a state-of-the-art L.E.D. screen on stage that projects fantastic images -- from larger-than-life ornaments to twinkling Christmas trees -- to augment the show's already incredible scenery. Furthermore, the huge screen provides the forum for a truly remarkable 3-D ride with Santa as he and the reindeer come into New York City. (Ironically, in 2006, we haven't progressed beyond paper 3-D glasses.)

While this extraordinary virtual experience helps the Spectacular live up to its name, almost everything else on stage does so as well. This 80-minute extravaganza is so chock-a-block with singers, dancers, gorgeously-colored sets, and eye-popping costumes, it makes even the inventively extravagant Mary Poppins a few blocks away seem a little chintzy. A flying nanny is great, but can it compare to real live ice skaters on a mini-rink that emerges from beneath the set?

Of course, the Spectacular's not-so-secret weapons are the Radio City Rockettes, and Haberman has made sure to give them more stage time than in the past. Indeed, they show off their particular precision kick-line skills in the very first number, "Sleighride." Shortly after that, these lovely ladies spend over seven minutes on stage by themselves tapping through a clever arrangement of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." They also make a welcome appearance in the delightful "White Christmas in New York" sequence and as a group of raffish rag dolls in "Santa's Workshop." Still, their shining moment remains the brilliantly choreographed "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," a mainstay of the show for many years.

Nonetheless, those talented women aren't the only stars of the show. Kudos must also go to Charles Edward Hall, who is a truly jovial Santa, the fine dancers who play the adorable dancing bears during the charming "Nutcracker" sequence, and the many, many Santas on stage for the smile-inducing "Here Comes Santa Claus" number -- which makes superb use of that L.E.D. screen.

The camel is still there, too, as part of "The Living Nativity," which concludes the show. This fairly somber telling of Jesus Christ's birth is deliberately positioned as a postscript to the fluffy main show; and while it may serve to remind audience members what Christmas is really about, it nonetheless feels a bit uneasily tacked on.

And I'm not sure the message of "peace on earth, goodwill towards men" is really getting through to the seemingly endless number of audience members who, despite a pre-show announcement, continued to take flash photography throughout not just the Nativity but the entire show. Their rude behavior was the one thing that made this Spectacular less than spectacular.


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