The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
The Rockettes are back for the 2016 edition of New York's favorite holiday show.
The times, they are a-changin' — but fortunately, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular never does. With the reliability of the United States Postal Service, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night" can stay the Rockettes from their appointed rounds, pleasing crowds with the same eye-high kicks and smiles they've had since 1933. They danced through the Great Depression, they danced through World War II, they danced through Vietnam, and as a tumultuous 2016 draws to a close, they're back at Radio City Music Hall like USO performers offering world-weary New Yorkers and tourists alike an idyllic and completely nonpartisan respite.
Halfway between theme-park entertainment and a museum piece, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a greatest-hits program of the Rockettes' classic precision dancing (helmed and choreographed by Julie Branam) with the added 21st-century effect of a 3-D sleigh ride through Manhattan. "The Parade of the Wooden Soliders," from the original 1933 show, remains the oldest number on the bill — a line of dancers in billowy pants and feathered hats showing off a long list of formations before doing their impressive slow fall like a set of dominoes. Throughout the show, the statuesque dancers also metamorphose into an army of rag dolls (an old number that's been recently reinserted) and Santa Clauses, providing a choreographed illustration of how Old Saint Nick can be at so many malls and street corners at once (Charles Edward Hall plays Santa 1.0 and serves as our jolly tour guide throughout the performance).
There are also a few non-Rockette-centric vignettes. An abridged Nutcracker ballet (alternately starring Alexandra Hoffmann, Makena Malonso, and Rachel Quiner as Clara) features a company of costumed bears dancing to Tchaikovsky's score — a whimsical introduction to classical music for younger audience members. A trip to Santa's workshop is also one of the more "spectacular" moments with a behemoth factory set surrounded by an ensemble of Santa's helpers in eye-catching outfits (Gregg Barnes, Frank Krenz, and the late Martin Pakledinaz share costume credit). Taking the trip to Santa's workshop are Patrick and his younger brother Ben (played at my performance by Tyler Hentz and Finn Douglas, respectively). In a short aside of plot, Santa brings the boys to his toy shop to help them find the perfect gift for their sister (offering an ideal segue into the "Rag Doll Dance") and to convince a worldly-wise Patrick that he can still enjoy some Christmas magic — even at the ripe old age of 14.
Running 90 minutes with no intermission, the Christmas Spectacular is a smorgasbord of bite-size holiday fare for the whole family. But be forewarned, the longer dance numbers might be trying for those with limited attention spans. And despite the terrific production values, your children will likely be most excited by the farm animals that make their showstopping parade during the Living Nativity and the paper snow that's sprinkled over the crowd during the finale. But no matter what surprises come in 2017, we'll all be back next year to ogle the donkeys and scoop up that confetti — and isn't that a comforting thought.