The Great Radio City Music Hall Spectacular” is an extravaganza of taps ‘n’ teeth that is 50% vaudeville, 50% Vegas and 100% kitsch. But this Rockettes showcase, smartly directed by Joe Layton, reminds how entertaining kitsch can be.
The show begins with a bang: 22 gals, dressed in feathers and sequined top hats, bras and panties, high-kicking and tapping their little hearts out to tunes like “If My Friends Could See Me Now.”
Then a voice intros singer-hostess Susan Anton (music cue: “If You Knew Susie”), who confirms “I am indeed Susan Anton,” and explains that this two-year , 76-city tour is to observe the RCMH’s 60th anni.
The evening’s retrospective theme is fitting: The Rockettes are symbols of a bygone era, as comforting and enjoyable as a mug of Ovaltine or a Moon Pie. They don’t make shows like this anymore, and the audience enjoys the anachronism as much as the spectacle.
A “Kingdom of the Sea” number features a mermaid suspended on wires swishing her tail, while other merpersons frolic with dancing clams; then, to the music of “Clair de Lune,” one underdressed sea creature (Melinda Jackson) does a pas de deux with a shirtless pirate (Michael Kessler), which is sensual and effective, but still G-rated. All right, maybe PG.
Jackson & Kessler, who come pretty damn close to stealing the show, also perform a slinky “Rhapsody in Blue”; as Strauss plays, the Rockettes, in evening gowns and turbans, do variations of “the wave” with ostrich-feather fans; and Ravel’s “Bolero” is the backdrop as the skirts of three women serve like clown cars, from which emerge men in red gaucho outfits and women in Carmen Miranda getups.
Such bits are interspersed with specialty acts: expert tapping from five chorus men, “The Masks and Magic of Jeff McBride,” and tunes from Anton.
McBride is not so much a magician as a mime-dancer who punctuates his routines with magic feats; he also plays with smoke and laser lights, but his best moments come as he pulls up a young audience member to assist him in variations on pulling-a-coin-from-his-ear tricks.
Anton is a striking, towering emcee, chatting with the audience, dancing with the ensemble and belting out several standards — the highlight being the evening’s only unfamiliar song, Peter Allen & Dean Pitchford’s “Once Before I Go.”
The show certainly has its share of slow spots, but it would be churlish, and possibly un-American, to dwell on them.
All tech aspects are tops, particularly Pete Menefee’s costumes. And Joe Layton, who directed, choreographed and conceived the production with Bruce Michael, deserves major praise for bringing taste, talent and relative restraint to the evening.