MSG Entertainment has brought on board producer Harvey Weinstein and creatives Warren Carlyle, Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner to retool the company’s large-scale theatrical event aimed at establishing a new, springtime Rockettes perennial at Radio City Musical Hall.
The “New York Spring Spectacular,” opening at Radio City in March, is the overhauled version of “Hearts and Lights,” the Rockettes show that was scheduled to premiere earlier this year before MSG pulled the plug just days before the production would have begun performances. Carlyle, who won a Tony this year for his choreography for “After Midnight,” will direct and choreograph “Spring Spectacular.” Paulus, the director of Broadway productions including “Pippin” and “Porgy and Bess,” and Weiner, the producer behind immersive shows such as “Sleep No More” and “Queen of the Night,” are on board as co-creative directors, while playwright Joshua Harmon, author of well-received Off Broadway comedy “Bad Jews,” collaborates on the story.
The project represents an attempt to expand the Rockettes brand with an annual springtime counterpart to “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” MSG’s 88-year-old Yuletime staple. The new additions to the project’s creative team came together through a web of preexisting connections. Weinstein has previously partnered with MSG executive chairman and Cablevision chief James Dolan on projects including benefit concert “12-12-12,” and Paulus is the director of Weinstein’s upcoming Broadway musical, “Finding Neverland.” She and Weiner are married.
“I saw ‘Hearts and Lights’ last spring and loved the puppetry and the choreography,” Weinstein said. “I’ve worked with Jim and MSG many times before, and Jim is an investor on ‘Finding Neverland.’ MSG wanted to bring in many of the creative forces we have working on that show.”
Several production elements from “Hearts and Lights” — including a 26-foot, 3,300-lb., electronically operated Statue of Liberty puppet constructed by Australia’s Creature Technology Company (“King Kong”) — are being used for “Spring Spectacular.” The show will also incorporate 3D video and large-scale LED screens.
For MSG, the business imperative is clear for a recurring springtime show that capitalizes on the longstanding national brand of the Rockettes. New York tourism spikes every spring, thanks in part to the country’s rolling scheduling of academic spring breaks, resulting in an influx of visitors looking for family entertainment. (The same influx of city visitors annually fuels business on Broadway.)
“The concept of a spring perennial is still a great one,” said Tad Smith, CEO of Madison Square Garden Company.
The storyline of “Spring Spectacular” centers on Bernie, a New York City tour guide whose company is bought by a techie who plans to replace Bernie’s livelihood with virtual tours of the city. The show follows Bernie as he takes his new boss, Jenna, on a sightseeing tour of Gotham in an attempt to prove the real world experience is superior. Music from the show will be drawn from contemporary pop hits.
The large-scale production features a cast of about 40 Rockettes performing alongside four lead actors and 14 members of an additional dance ensemble, plus child actors and aerialists. Carlyle said he’s making an effort to showcase the Rockettes in new ways, allowing them opportunities to perform in more contemporary dance styles. “They don’t appear as housewives or shoppers in the show,” he noted. “They’re these magical beings who help Bernie out when he needs it.”
Weiner, meanwhile, will draw on his experience with immersive productions as “Spring Spectacular” develops. “We’re thinking about how the show can interact with the audience in ways that I don’t think Radio City has done before,” he said.
Although the new version of the project has a beefed-up narrative throughline, creatives are quick to caution that the production isn’t a traditional book musical along the lines of Broadway titles such as Weinstein’s “Finding Neverland,” but instead a spectacle geared to fill Radio City’s mammoth stage and its 6,000-seat house.
“We’re not doing a musical theater piece,” said Paulus. “Working on this is closer to my experience working on Cirque du Soleil than on Broadway shows.”
The differences in creative content are one reason that programming at Radio City, located just a few blocks from Manhattan’s theater district, has never quite been considered direct competition to the more traditional theater offerings of Broadway. Like the Main Stem, Radio City draws ticketbuyers from the New York City tri-state area alongside national and international tourists. “There’s an overlap in the audience demographic, but we skew extraordinarily high with a multigenerational family audience,” said David Goodman, MSG president of productions and live entertainment.
Jointly produced by MSG Entertainment and Weinstein Live Entertainment, “New York Spring Spectacular” starts previews March 12 ahead of a March 26 opening. The show runs through May 3, with plans to mount the production annually.