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Radio City Christmas Spectacular

A New York tradition launches the holiday season.

The Rockettes dance as rag dolls in a scene from The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, directed and choreographed by Julie Branam.
(© MSGE Creative)

It's Christmastime again in NYC, and that can mean only one thing: Hordes of tourists…going to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Once again, the Rockettes are high-kicking their way through as many as six shows a day, spreading cheer to visitors and natives alike from its untouchable pillar of holiday entertainment where it's stood since 1933. Like the Christmas season itself, the Spectacular perfects the balance of commercialism and authentic nostalgia, luring audiences back year after year with a spirit of tradition that its neighboring Fiddlers could even get on board with.

Gregg Barnes, Frank Krenz, and the late Martin Pakledinaz's costume designs put the "spectacle" in the Spectacular, with an endless parade of striking outfits ranging from the Rockettes' form-fitting reindeer getups in the opening "Sleigh Ride" number to their iconic toy soldier ensembles, with each cuff and feather-topped hat in perfect alignment for their famous slow-motion collapse. The Nutcracker also gets a kid-friendly abridgement as cuddly bears of varying shapes, sizes, and ethnic connotations dance to snippets of Tchaikovsky's famous score alongside the talented Alexandra Hoffman, Kayla Mak, or Rachel Quiner, who share the role of Clara. An actual nutcracker sadly never makes an appearance.

A sweet, holiday story about a pair of brothers searching for the perfect gift for their sister is folded in the middle of the themed vignettes, featuring a wholesome script by Mark Waldrop and the tuneful song "Closer Than You Know" with lyrics by Waldrop and music by Gary Adler. A world-weary 14-year-old named Patrick (played alternatingly by Jack Broderick, Jack Mastrianni, and Sawyer Nunes) hits the stores with his bright-eyed younger brother Ben (a role shared by Jad Grey, Avey Noble, and Jorge Vega) when they run into Santa Claus (Charles Edward Hall as the show's perfectly jolly host). Together, they take an impromptu trip to the North Pole where they find a fantastical workshop scenescape designed by Patrick Fahey and 8 Hands High Inc. A rag doll turns out to be the gift they've been searching for (or possibly the gift that's been searching for them), as the Rockettes wobble out in their mile-high red wigs and candy-cane stockings for the last of their novelty numbers.

Rounding out the 90-minute production are a 3-D tour of Manhattan (for a little 21st-century flair); dozens of Santa Clauses tapping out a jazzy number where Nick proves his magical powers of multiplication; a cameo by a double-decker tour bus; and of course, the Living Nativity. It's the Spectacular's traditional grand finale where the religious themes of the holiday are earnestly brought to light by live camels and sheep marching in lockstep across the Radio City stage. But by the time the Star of Bethlehem shines down over the crèche, the younger members of the audience have already either collapsed in a sugar coma or launched World War III over the streamers that are blasted into the orchestra. Perhaps you'll find the true meaning of Christmas in the show's final moments of divinity, but these are the greatest traditions of all.