The “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” may have been around for 85 years, but don’t call it old-fashioned.
The annual Yuletide showcase for the Rockettes is getting a major tech upgrade this year, boosting the show’s immersive and interactive elements, incorporating drones in the performance and bridging tech and live entertainment in ways that will all come together in a brand-new finale staged by Tony-nominated director Sam Buntrock.
Don’t worry: This year’s “Christmas Spectacular” will still have that traditional Nativity scene, replete with live camels, which has always come toward the end of the annual production. But the new finale — featuring performers interacting with animation on one of the largest 8K LED displays in the world; 100 small, flying drones; live aerialists; and, of course, a new number for the Rockettes — will turn its attention to the North Star.
“It’s an expressionistic sequence,” says Buntrock, known for meshing technology and theater in stage productions like the 2008 Broadway revival of “Sunday in the Park With George.” “It traces the North Star through time, and fragments that into points of light that then get carried forth into the world, in the tiny points of light on a Christmas tree or on a candle. It has this sense that the Christmas lights have an origin story — like Batman.”
Buntrock is the creative director for all of the production’s new digital content, working with companies including multimedia design firm Batwin + Robin as well as Obscura, the cutting-edge creative studio that Madison Square Garden Co., owner of Radio City and producer of the “Christmas Spectacular,” acquired last year. It’s a purchase that’s part of the company’s overall expansion into high-tech experiences like the upcoming MSG Spheres venues.
“This is all part of a greater plan that MSG has to create more immersion and develop new types of experiences for audiences,” notes Obscura co-founder Travis Threlkel.
This year’s “Spectacular” is also the first with former Weinstein Co. exec Victoria Parker in the role of MSG Prods. exec VP. Among her goals has been the incorporation of new, innovative elements to surprise repeat audiences and entice younger crowds. “The space inside Radio City has now got an incredible technological refit that gives us the ability to put an audience into a scene in an entirely different way,” she says.
“It has this sense that the Christmas lights have an origin story — like Batman.”
Sam Buntrock, director
Among the fresh elements to look out for are a POV-bending take on the Nutcracker sequence, making use of the projections that can now cover the entirety of the auditorium’s walls, and airborne drones that are elaborately choreographed to create patterns, images and movement.
The upgrade to the “Christmas Spectacular,” which starts performances Nov. 9, is one part of Parker’s brief to grow the Rockettes brand overall, an effort that currently includes a potential new show in development as well as the intention to explore domestic and international touring.
“We believe the Rockettes and Radio City are icons of New York,” Parker says. “You should be able to come to New York any time of year and see a Rockettes production.”