New York Spring Spectacular

The Rockettes revel in vernal splendor for a mammoth new show at Radio City Music Hall.

Derek Hough and Jared Grimes dance in the rain with the Rockettes in the New York Spring Spectacular, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, at Radio City Music Hall.
Derek Hough and Jared Grimes dance in the rain with the Rockettes in the New York Spring Spectacular, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, at Radio City Music Hall.
(© MSG Entertainment)

If there's one must-see show for tourists taking Manhattan this spring, it's the New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. "Spectacular" is the operative word. At the risk of sounding like Saturday Night Live's Stefon, this show has everything: fire-jugglers, the Easter Bunny, giant puppets, Laura Benanti, and an unmanned aerial vehicle (or drone) disguised as a kite. Creative directors Randy Weiner and Diane Paulus have pulled out all the stops in this extravagant love letter to New York City, the likes of which you won't see anywhere else.

We know we're in a New York state of mind from the moment the orchestra rises from the pit. Handsomely adorned in white tuxedos, they play a medley of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Kander & Ebb's "New York, New York" as the overture. Those time-honored anthems give way to a new soundtrack as the Rockettes aggressively march onstage to Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York." These cheerleaders of NYC are slightly menacing under Mia Michaels' choreography (Michaels staged this opening number, with Broadway choreographer Warren Carlyle taking the rest and directing the book scenes). They crisscross the floor with a deliberate precision, like busy commuters exiting a train.

Naturally this lands us in Grand Central Station, where tour guide Bernie (the irrepressible Lenny Wolpe) is in danger of losing his job. Ambitious tech entrepreneur Jenna (Laura Benanti) is prepared to drag Bernie's operation into the 21st century, replacing him with a digital doppelgänger who won't demand better hours or health insurance. God (Whoopi Goldberg) sends her angel Jack (Derek Hough of Dancing With the Stars) down to Earth to rescue Bernie from a pink slip. Like a modern-day Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life, Jack has to save Bernie by showing Jenna how crappy life would be without him. He convinces her to take the tour before making her final decision. Six thousand special guests (that's us) tag along for the ride.

We hop around the city, visiting important attractions like the Metropolitan Museum, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty. Every major facet of city culture is touched upon: fashion, art, theater, and sports. As to be expected, the story takes a backseat to the singing, dancing, and visual magnificence. That's why Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews) deserves major props for fitting the theme of information-age labor anxiety into this goliath of a show.

But if a heartwarming and socially relevant story doesn't seal the deal, Warren Carlyle's frenetic, gravity-defying choreography surely will. A tap number (impressively led by Hough and Jared Grimes) set during a spring rain in Central Park is an unforgettable highlight. Hough incants "Singin' in the Rain" and the Rockettes splish-splash in time as real water falls onto the stage.

They look stunning in costume designer ESosa's shockingly yellow raincoats with matching umbrellas. Everyone in this idealized version of New York looks straight out of a Technicolor film. Patrick Fahey succeeds in re-creating some of the biggest New York City landmarks with generous help from video and projection designers Batwin + Robin (turning Radio City's side doors into train platforms at Grand Central is an inspired choice). David Agress and Keith Caggiano fill the cavernous auditorium with light and sound. It feels like we're in a nightclub, especially when our little wristbands light up.

Composers as diverse as Antonín Dvořák and Neil Diamond provide the score, with original songs by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy (Finding Neverland) filling in the gaps. The Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman number "Bring It Home" (about moving Broadway to a virtual platform) is a real winner, delivered with snarky comic charm by Benanti. She and Hough deliver a sparkling duet of Kern & Fields' "The Way You Look Tonight" mashed up with "I Won't Dance." Of course, they do, but not as much as those amazing Rockettes, the evening's real stars.

Radio City Music Hall hasn't featured a show like this in over two decades, with the exception of its ever-popular Christmas Spectacular. But we shouldn't have to wait for the holidays to see the Rockettes. This is the kind of grand stage entertainment that harks back to The Ziegfeld Follies: great songs, unbelievable sets, hilarious comedians, and beautiful costumes. Where else can you see 42 dancers tapping and high-kicking in unison? There are plenty of quality acts to see on Broadway this spring, but if you want to be blown away, you really need to walk a block east to Radio City.

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