The 79th annual edition of the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes” — that’s the full title — has been overhauled with new technology and extensive digital enhancements to make it the biggest “Spectacular” yet. Last revised in 2007, the show now literally wraps the walls and ceiling of the ginormous hall in digital projections, with a 3D videogame adventure as the piece de resistance. Even so, the best moments are the old standards: “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” comes from the initial 1933 edition, and the still-effective costumes from a young designer from Chicago named Vincente Minnelli.
Though likely to thrill the throngs who visit year after year, the show reps 90 minutes of ups and downs. For fans of synchronized dancing, there are the Rockettes, all 36 of them. Meticulously trained, hard-working professionals with big smiles, the dancers are featured in number after number, always pretty much the same, though none of their material begins to approach the imagination or humor of those wooden soldiers from 1933.
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A second winning number, “Here Comes Santa Claus,” is a leftover from the 1990s, when choreographer Robert Longbottom was in residence. The arrangement features 48 Santas — including, presumably, all those Rockettes in red suits — with bells on, plus another hundred or so on the LED screen. The show also includes some effective use of 3D (glasses included), such as “Santa Flies to New York” (watch out for that polar bear throwing a snowball in your face). The “Living Nativity” has once more been spruced up, now enhanced with a starry night projected overhead. On opening night, the six sheep and three camels already looked bored, but the donkey seemed content.
The newer material in this edition, directed and choreographed by Linda Haberman (who’s been onboard since 2006), is less inviting. First half consists of specialty numbers, while the second includes an uncompelling mini-story of an overstressed mother and her well-adjusted child shopping for Christmas presents. The sequence is built around a song, “Closer Than You Know,” that falls flat the two or three times it is sung. And while the stage, and the Rockettes, are then transformed into what’s supposed to be a big 3D videogame, the apparent fun is not at all infectious.
Reservations aside, this new “Christmas Spectacular” fills the hall with holiday spirit, employs all those Rockettes amid a running cast/crew of 200-plus, and keeps Radio City the place for tourists to be in December.