Mia Michaels, the choreographer best known for her work on “So You Can Think You Can Dance,” has taken the reins of the new live production featuring the Rockettes, a summer show that represents the first efforts by the new leadership of MSG Productions to grow their content and production businesses.
David “Doc” O’Connor, the CAA veteran who was named president and CEO of Madison Square Garden Company last year, and Colin Ingram, the new exec VP of MSG Productions, have tapped Broadway playwright Douglas Carter Beane (“The Little Dog Laughed,” “Cinderella,” “The Nance”) to write the script for the summer show, whose full title is the “New York Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes.”
The goal is to create a second signature show for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall to stand alongside the 84-year-old “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” — on the way to further building MSG Productions’ content and production slate.
“Once we establish these two pillars, the ‘Christmas Spectacular’ and the ‘New York Spectacular,’ then we can really start thinking about creating other Radio City experiences that are equally unique, with or without the Rockettes,” O’Connor told Variety. “Radio City is completely unique, and we have to be innovative and entrepreneurial in figuring out how to create experiences in a bespoke fashion for that venue.”
MSG leadership is positioning the “New York Spectacular” as a new show, but Rockettes fans will recognize it as version 2.0 of the “New York Spring Spectacular,” which Harvey Weinstein co-produced last year. (Or version 3.0, if you count the previous, abortive outing “Hearts and Lights.”) Michaels, the director-choreographer of the new show, choreographed one number in last year’s “Spring Spectacular” (pictured above), and this year will work with new collaborators that include Beane, lighting designer and Cirque du Soleil alum Alain Lortie and immersive multimedia design company the Moment Factory. The latter — which has worked on events for Madonna, Disney and Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia — is poised to expand upon the environmental elements introduced in the spring production.
The summer show will incorporate many of the physical elements of the “Spring Spectacular,” particularly the large-scale re-creations of major New York tourist destinations, into a new story about a young boy and a pre-teen girl who get separated from their parents on a visit to the city. Over the course of their journey to reunite with their parents, they’re helped along by the Rockettes and by famous New York statues come to life.
“We’re building on last year’s show,” Ingram said. “We’ve asked Mia to take her style and touch several of the numbers that were in last year, and then added a few more.”
The show’s creators and producers have used market research from the 2015 spring production to guide the retooling. The biggest takeaway from last year’s audiences: They wanted more Rockettes. With that in mind, Radio City’s kickline of 36 leggy dancers are now the stars of the show, alongside 20 men, six ensemble players and a handful of other actors, adding up to a cast of about 70 performers.
The move from spring to summer, meanwhile, will allow MSG to capitalize on the annual spike in city visitors during hot-weather months, when tourism increases by 30%. Many of those seasonal visitors are the family audiences toward which the “New York Spectacular” is geared.
According to O’Connor, Weinstein — who had enlisted collaborators including stage director Diane Paulus (“Waitress”) and director-choreographer Warren Carlyle, both also no longer attached to the project — was never on the hook for a multi-year involvement in the project. “Harvey’s a very good friend of this company and he came in and did us an enormous favor by putting together a show that drew 300,000 people to the venue last spring,” O’Connor said. “But he’s got a day job. He’s got a company to run. It was never contemplated that he was going to be the creative force behind future shows.”
The “New York Spectacular,” in all its iterations, adds up to a major investment for MSG. O’Connor declined to put an exact price tag on it, but in an interview last year, MSG chairman James L. Dolan characterized the spring show as an investment of almost $50 million, up to that point.
Beginning performances June 15, “New York Spectacular” is currently scheduled to play 75 shows over its six-week run, which breaks down to between nine and 10 shows per week. After that, O’Connor and Ingram intend to start thinking about potential future offerings.
“Ultimately we want to build more productions,” O’Connor said. “But where we take this with the brands that we create in our various venues, and beyond, remains to be seen.”