Rockettes wrap up audience in a 3-D spectacular
NEW YORK -- This year, Radio City Music Hall has a new way of putting the spectacle in its Christmas Spectacular. The venerable institution unveiled an updated version of its 79-year-old production, complete with 3DLIVE and numerous digital projections.
Apparently the whole idea was high on a lot of people's holiday lists. With festive crowds virtually shoulder to shoulder around New York City's Rockefeller Center, the long queue stretching down the block for the spectacular looked daunting but moved along at a comfortable pace.
Inside the Art Deco lobby was a mammoth crystal tree-like chandelier, enough to make any jaw drop. And there were numerous accompanying baubles, including Rockette-themed souvenirs, fanciful lighted drinks, popcorn and programs to enhance the experience.
But all that wasn't necessary for the ultimate holiday production. Here bigger was better (even corporate sponsor Chase popped up on stage in the marquees and across one of those golden arches in the auditorium). Sure, there was a time when a 30-member chorus graced those nifty stages along the sides of the hallmark auditorium. Now it's reduced to six singers. And when the orchestra was revealed at the end on the famous elevator stage, it was streamlined -- a few strings shy with a couple of synthesizers to plump up the music.
But that was only a small portion of this Christmas package. People came to see Radio City move into the digital age, and that turned out to be a real plus.
The only previous spectacular that I saw was a touring version in Pittsburgh, and that definitely looked 2-D. The Radio City production may have taken its cues from the projections on flat screens, but it led the audience on a decidedly robust adventure. You could take a tour of the city without leaving your seat, careening through Central Park and around Times Square, with the Rockettes perched on a genuine Gray Line double-decker bus. And they gave you honest-to-goodness onstage fireworks to boot.
Ah, all-American ingenuity.
You had to resist the effort to fasten your safety belts for the 3DLIVE segments (the glasses were included in your program). Santa flew from the North Pole, over the city, between the buildings and straight on to Radio City. Most novel, though, was Santa's video game, where the Rockettes, dressed like space-age heroines, battled the villainous Humbugs (about as tough as it gets in this show, unless you count the grueling number of kicks the Rockettes had performed -- my 9:30 p.m. show was the last of five during the course of the day).
So the program was able to take you further afield than ever without losing its traditional heart; Santa still showed the way and the Nativity scene still hit all the right spiritual buttons. And, of course, family values also played a large role when a mother learned something revealing about her daughter.
But the 36 Rockettes form the core of the production, moving from reindeer to human incarnations of that crystal chandelier, virtually flawless in their quest for precision. The "Twelve Days of Christmas," with its rhythmic tap maze, and the "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," with its iconic domino effect, were still the hands-down favorites.
The newer routines used block formations with plenty of arm positions, but there wasn't that delicious mathematical overlay, like when the soldiers peal off in various pinwheel formations with all the exactitude of a Swiss watch. However, the Santa-is-everywhere number, which gradually grows to include all of the cast and then multiplies via the projection screen, was the epitome of cheery.
Yes, the cheer came in large welcome doses. For those who like it that way, call this Radio City Christmas Spectacular a great way to jump-start the holiday season.
First Published December 14, 2011 12:00 am