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Danny Gardner and Rockettes Bring NYC to Life Onstage in the New York Spectacular

Gardner takes audiences on a fast-tapping, high-kicking tour of his adopted home in Radio City's summer offering.

Radio City's upcoming New York Spectacular, like its better known winter-season cousin, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, is a mash-up of entertainment genres. From old-Broadway kick lines (choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance's Mia Michaels) to inventive uses of new technology, the Spectacular offers something to please the widely varied tastes of its thousands of audience members.

According to cast member Danny Gardner, who plays the dual roles of Dad and George M. Cohan, the spectacle is just as enchanting from the other side of the stage. "When we first got in the space we were like, 'Oh my god, we forgot how big this place is,'" he told TheaterMania. "It really is stunning."

This year, the Spectacular follows a fictional Midwestern family who come to New York City on vacation, only to quickly become separated from one another. "So, magically," Gardner explains, "the statues of New York City come alive to help the kids find their parents again." And in dances Gardner as the animate Times Square statue of "Father of Musical Comedy" George M. Cohan.

"I just feel so grateful and lucky that I get to do what I love and this just seems like it's on another level," gushed the Broadway-veteran tapper of Dames at Sea. "I only did my first Broadway show last year and now I'm doing Radio City."

Danny Gardner plays the roles of Dad and George M. Cohan in Radio City's New York Spectacular.
(© Tricia Baron)

What's it like bringing the iconic statue of George M. Cohan to life?
Mia said, "For a contemporary audience, how would George M. move now?" I'm taking it as, you know, that statue was erected in 1959 and he's basically stood watch over Broadway for fifty-seven years and he's seen everything come and go and change and he's kind of been imbued with the style that is the current Broadway style. So that's my magical explanation of how George M. Cohan comes to life.

Tell me about working with Mia.
The first day of rehearsal I didn't get a chance to say hello to her before we did our read and so afterwards we had a ten-minute break, and I came over to her and I said, "Mia, I'm just so honored to be a part of this," and she gave me a big hug and she was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm so excited you're here and everyone's so talented." You know on So You Think You Can Dance, she's very business. And she is very business, but she's also very welcoming and warm. It's amazing to watch her work and to see how specific her eye is.

Do you get to dance with the Rockettes?
When I got the job, I told my dad, and he was like, "So does that mean you're a Rockette?" And I said, "Well I don't know if I'm really a Rockette." But then they said, "Oh no, you're dancing with the Rockettes." From the very beginning I am front and center with the Rockettes. And the thrill I have dancing with them is just amazing.

Danny Gardner joined Mara Davi onstage during his Broadway debut in last year's Dames at Sea.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

What makes the Rockettes so iconic?
Having forty amazing dancers in a room is in itself just a wonderful thing. This may sound silly, but there's something primal about seeing a line of people doing the exact same thing. You lose the individual in a very beautiful way and this group that's gelled over months and months. Individually, they're such wonderful dancers, but when you put them all together, it really steps it up a notch. And Mia's choreography is really stepping outside of what the Rockettes usually do in a beautiful, exciting way. I've never seen the Rockettes move like they do in the show. The precision dance that they do is not like anything else.

What's your can't-miss New York City site?
Well, it's kind of cliché, but Times Square. Even though it's crowded and noisy, I always like to at least hit Times Square and take everything in, all the sights and sounds. That, to me, is kind of the essential New York. And then as soon as we hit that, I try to get out of there as soon as possible. But I still love it even though it's crowded and crazy. That's the heartbeat of the city.

What was your first New York City experience?
Something that my mom did for all of her three children, when they turned thirteen, was she took us to our first Broadway show. I got to see Damn Yankees. And I remember just being overwhelmed by how big everything was and the sights and the sounds and I kind of fell in love with the pace of it. So I was like, "I think this place might be for me."

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