It’s a good thing that NBC’s musical tribute to the restoration of Gotham’s Radio City Hall arrives at a time of the year when nobody has the energy to pay close attention to what’s really playing on TV. This hodgepodge celebration includes comedy bits by Billy Crystal and Jon Stewart (“The Daily Show”), as well as musical numbers by pop acts such as Sting and 98 Degrees and show tune tacklers Liza Minnelli and Ann Miller. It’s all great to have in the background while you’re wrapping presents, but don’t look for a strong unifying theme or a satisfying toast to the art deco palace that was once known as “The Showplace of the Nation.”
Taped Oct. 4 during the venue’s re-opening night gala, the presentation begins with an all-too-brief flashback to 1932, where the Musical Hall presented first-run movies, as well as its trademark live stage shows featuring its 36-member dance corps, the Rockettes.
A flashy opening number by today’s leggy Rockettes is followed by actor Christian Slater, who reminisces about his days as a Christmas Spectacular Tiny Tim, back when he was 12.
After Sting delivers a smooth rendition of his current hit “Brand New Day,” it’s up to Billy Crystal to give viewers a tour of the basement of the Music Hall.
Seeming as if he’s rehearsing for his host duties on Oscar night, Crystal is quite fetching in Rockettes-type tights and black heels, and gets to deliver cornball lines such as “Who needs Viagra to go up?” as he’s elevated on to the historic stage.
There are blink-and-you’ll-miss archival footage of highlights from the venue’s past, as well as appearances by Barry Bostwick and Oscar-winning actress and singer Shirley Jones, who jokes about the cruelty of being forever remembered as a TV mom on “The Partridge Family,” after having built a sterling career on the stage and in film.
Tom Brokaw is also on hand to promote the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, which the gala launches in memory of Marc Lustgarten, chairman of Madison Square Garden who recently lost his 16-month battle with the disease.
Younger auds may rejoice at the sight of sensitive boy group 98 Degrees, or Lou Bega singing his overplayed “Mambo No. 5,” but the producers should have included more traditional Radio City Hall veterans such as Minnelli.
The singer’s bring-the-house-down finale of “New York, New York,” accompanied by the Rockettes, serves as a reminder of the more appropriate direction the tribute should have taken, even if it meant dropping the teen demographics and having it tailored as a PBS pledge drive special. Tech credits are definitely high-end.