Nothing says "bah humbug" like critically poking and prodding at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. And why even bother? The patrons who file into the mammoth theater every Christmas season are not trudging through Rockefeller Center at 11am on a Tuesday in anticipation of a transcendent artistic experience. They come for 90 minutes of wholesome family entertainment with a hearty helping of Rockette-sprinkled nostalgia — and for the 81st consecutive year, the Big Apple's most spectacular Christmas show doesn't disappoint.
In as many as four performances a day, the long-stemmed army of high-kicking dancers show off their signature technical precision while spreading some vintage Christmas cheer. (And Broadway actors complain about Wednesday matinees?) The Rockettes are striking as ever as they flaunt conceiver/director/choreographer extraordinaire Linda Haberman's visually stunning numbers in their sparkling holiday costumes, designed by Broadway veterans Gregg Barnes, Frank Krenz, and the late Martin Pakledinaz.
With each new formation, followed by a return to the iconic single-file kick line — on full display in the reindeer-filled opening number "Sleigh Ride" and their rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" — the crowd responds with thunderous applause as if the Beatles had just broken into an encore of "Hey Jude." "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "The Living Nativity" (starring a small herd of camels and sheep that elicit a wave of "ooh"s an "ah"s from young and old alike) remain the most nostalgic of the show's vignettes, offering audiences a link back to its early days as an antidote to the woes of the Great Depression.
For those yet to revisit the show this decade, Radio City has indeed dusted off the cobwebs and revamped the annual holiday tradition for 21st century audiences. 3D glasses come in handy as a digital Santa kicks off the show with a sleigh ride to the concert hall. We don the cardboard shades again when we meet straightlaced mother Tracy (alternately played by Angela Grovey, Shauna Miles, and Zakiya Young) and her tech-savvy daughter, Kayla (Elainey Bass, Grace Capeless, and Madison Zamor), who reconnect via a holiday cheer-inspired video game. A brand new number, "Snow," follows, featuring GPS-directed snowflakes that hover over the crowd as the theater transforms into a Norman Rockwell picture of a winter wonderland.
Saccharine? Perhaps. But what better time or place to indulge? The ‘'Radio City Christmas Spectacular'' continues to return adults to their childhood traditions and gives children new traditions to carry on as they pass into adulthood. Watching the young seated first-timers mesmerized by dancing bears in tutus performing excerpts from Tchaikovsky's ‘'Nutcracker Ballet'' is as much a part of the spectacular experience as the Spectacular itself. The feet of the little girl beside me barely dangled over the edge of her seat as she gazed ahead, mindlessly drawing handfuls of cotton candy from an oversized bag and wiping the sticky remnants all over her fancy dress and pink Radio City Santa hat. Sights like this can only make you pray that the Radio City Christmas Spectacular will enjoy another 81 holiday seasons in NYC.