New York Spectacular
The Rockettes take the stage at Radio City Music Hall.
For the past three years, Madison Square Garden Entertainment has attempted to create a warm-weather tribute to New York City starring its world-famous Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. In 2014, it was Hearts and Lights, a production that was scrapped in the middle of rehearsals. Last year, the company teamed up with producer Harvey Weinstein and creative director Diane Paulus to present the New York Spring Spectacular, a star-studded pageant featuring Laura Benanti and Derek Hough. Their latest incarnation is simply called New York Spectacular, but the product doesn't quite live up to the title. The Big Apple on display in the show is nothing like the real deal, and the production only solidifies how hard it is to create something truly remarkable.
While last year's version explored how big business is destroying the mom-and-pop industry, this edition, scripted by Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed) and directed and choreographed by Mia Michaels, jettisons nuance from the story almost entirely. The simple through-line is that Mom and Dad (Broadway vets Kacie Sheik and Danny Gardner) are on vacation in Manhattan with their two children, Emily (Lilla Crawford, alternating with Jenna Ortega) a teenager obsessed with her cell phone, and Jacob (Vincet Crocilla), a young boy with a big imagination. As soon as Mom confiscates Emily's texting device, parents and children are separated at Grand Central Terminal, leaving the youngsters to traverse the city on foot, hunting for their folks.
What transpires is a series of vignettes that highlight famous Manhattan landmarks, told through past and present music hits ranging from "42nd Street" to Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York." Patience and Fortitude, the lions of the New York Public Library, spring to life and start rapping. The Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park (Sheik again) sings a trippy edition of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever." George M. Cohan (Gardner) introduces the pair to the wonders of Broadway. As Jacob's imagination connects to all of this wonder, Emily is also able to rediscover her inner child. The experience of seeing New York City through fresh eyes also sends them on the path to reuniting with their family.
The production isn't quite sure what it wants to be. The songs, orchestrated with a hip-hop beat by Christopher Jahnke, are completely unrecognizable. The script rarely has the pithy verve that is Beane's stock-in-trade as a playwright, and it presents New York as a brightly colored safe haven where two youngsters can walk freely down the street without any concerns. Under Michaels' slack direction, the dialogue scenes get lost in a stage filled with massive set pieces and projections (standing alone, Patrick Fahey's scenic design is cool to look at, and the videos, by Moment Factory, are strikingly lifelike).
Most disappointing is the choreography, which feels rudimentary and devoid of the flair that won Michaels an Emmy for So You Think You Can Dance. Though they make several appearances, the Rockettes only make an impression once, during a "Singin' in the Rain" routine where they dance in puddles as real water pelts down from the rafters. ESosa's shiny yellow costumes add to the enjoyment of this particular sequence, which thrills viewers eager to see their dazzling syncopation skills on full display.
The highlight of the production comes toward the end, when Cohan jumps off his pedestal in Father Duffy Square and does a tap routine set to "Give My Regards to Broadway" up and down the iconic red steps of Times Square. Hoofer Gardner steals the show with this simple moment, a sequence without any spectacle. He's simply a well-trained dancer doing what he's born to do. And there's only one word to describe what it's like to watch that: spectacular.