The Rockettes in Radio City Christmas Spectacular
(© Gene Schiavone)
The Rockettes in Radio City Christmas Spectacular
(© Gene Schiavone)
The newest edition of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular brings the venerable extravaganza squarely into the 21st century, blending state-of-the-art technology with old-school theatricality. It's a delightful combination, that's been overseen by director/choreographer Linda Haberman, who's created a show that's sort of like seeing what Busby Berkeley might have done had been able to work with the folks at Pixar or Dreamworks.

Let's face it, there's nothing like seeing the high-kicking Rockettes deliver one of their often spellbindingly precise routines, and in the show, audiences are treated to a bevy of them, including the classic "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," in which the dancers maneuver in lines around the stage with such crispness that one imagines they'd been trained by a cigar-chomping drill sergeant. And then, of course, there are the kicklines, which always dazzle.

But where the dancers truly shine are in some of the production's more whimsical moments. The show's opening number finds them clad like sexy anthropomorphic reindeer (costumes by Frank Krenz and Martin Pakledinaz) sinuously prepping for a ride with Santa and later, they offer up a swell tap number set to an ingeniously orchestrated "12 Days of Christmas," in which each verse has been set to a different musical and choreographic style.

This latter number -- and many others -- are backed by what brings the show into the present day: beautifully conceived and executed computer-generated projections. While this number unfolds, huge Christmas tree ornaments sway gently behind the dancers, changing colors and patterns as the songs morph from one musical genre to another. During "Here Comes Santa Claus," in which the ladies all don the famous "red suit," the projections seem to bring infinite columns of Santas to the stage, who are dancing the same routine as the live performers.

The show's use of contemporary technology extends beyond the visuals that back the show and actually brings the production well into the audience, thanks to two 3D sequences (glasses come with each program). The first allows Santa to fly out over the audience and then whisk through Manhattan (a moment marred by some unfortunate and overly obvious sponsorship credits).

The second -- one of the new numbers in the production -- takes audiences into a computer game in which the Rockettes do battle with "the Humbugs" who have taken over Santa's workshop. The 3D effects are pretty impressive, but the ways in which they have been coordinated with the live action simply astounds; it genuinely looks as if the women are hurling glittering missel-like waves of "Christmas cheer," which illuminate trees at the North Pole, to effectively neutralize the buzzing anti-holiday meanies.

This onstage videogame is tied to what constitutes the longest stretch of storytelling in the show, about a harried, smart phone-toting mother, who needs to relearn the true meaning of the season, and while the slight tale won't take anyone by surprise, the way in which it's used also segues into the signature -- and perhaps oldest school of all -- moment of the show, "The Living Nativity," is just ingenious.