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Theatre Review: Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Bob Jagendorf
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The production is so large in scale — fitting for a holiday like Christmas — that’s it’s hard not to get caught up in the spirit and enjoy a bit of good cheer.

New York at Christmas is romanticized by millions of people around the world — be it dreams of seeing the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center in person or the chance to wonder at the iconic storefront window decorations along Fifth Avenue. Included on almost any list of NYC Christmas “musts” is also the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the ever-popular ninety-minute music revue that celebrates all things Christmas, be it snow, Santa, the Nutcracker, and yes — the Nativity.

Since 1933, this production has been wowing hundreds of thousands of audience members annually — and for good reason. It’s bold in its vision, expensive in its undertaking, and for the most part, successful in its execution. Having seen the production as a child, I returned to the famed Radio City Music Hall this past week to revisit it and see if it’s still got that same energy and ability to dazzle audiences of all ages.

First off, it must be noted that seeing any production on the stage of Radio City is a treat. The venue is grand and immediately lifts the spirit upon entry. The curtain rises, and when those actors fill the stage, it’s a visual feast. The production’s large orchestra provides a full and impressive accompaniment for the show’s singers and dancers.

Speaking of dancers, let’s not forget the stars of the show: the Rockettes. Perhaps the most iconic dancing troupe in the world, these high kicking performers are the show’s obvious main attraction. No matter how many times one has seen them perform, be it live or on television, their precision and their finesse is always stunning. Among their most famous numbers is the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” — both of which merit the price admission alone.

Other notable numbers include “New York at Christmas,” in which the audience is treated to a sightseeing tour of the city’s landmark locations, and the living Nativity, in which live animals — several camels included — don the stage to recreate the birth of Christ, a moving and inspiring tribute which closes out the show.

For all of its right notes, however, I couldn’t help but to be disappointed with the commercialization of the show — particularly, the corporate branding that has taken over in recent years. The show’s sponsor, Chase Bank, receives proper credit on the commercials, programs, and posters — but a new extreme has been reached through the amount of onstage branding in which their logo, along with many other major companies, are used throughout the production.  Not only does this prove to be distracting, but one has to stop and wonder if everything in life is now on sale — including theatrical scenic design?

Another low point of the production is “Santa’s Video Game,” in which the Rockettes are involved in “saving Christmas” through spreading good cheer. This overly technical (not to mention bizarre) 3-D number is oddly placed and poorly integrated into an otherwise seamless and fast moving production.

So what’s the final verdict? Despite a few flaws, this production still manages to inspire. The production is so large in scale — fitting for a holiday like Christmas — that’s it’s hard not to get caught up in the spirit and enjoy a bit of good cheer. Its willingness to not only capture the festive secular elements of the season, but also show respect — even deference — to the true and sacred nature of the season is something worth supporting and cheering on. And for that reason alone, it rightfully earns its title of Spectacular.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is playing at Radio City Musical Hall through December 30, 2013, and is an annual production running each November and December in New York City. Conceived, choreographed, and directed by Linda Haberman. 

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