REVIEW: High-kicking ‘Radio City Christmas Spectacular’ brings joy

The Rockettes star in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Photo from 2011 courtesy of Gene Schiavone.
The Rockettes star in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Photo from 2011 courtesy of Gene Schiavone.

NEW YORK — The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, starring the world-famous Rockettes, has descended on the midtown Manhattan musical hall for its annual holiday residency. The results, as can be expected, are joyful and perfect entertainment for Christmastime in the Big Apple.

The show has been running for so long, with so many iconic set pieces, that visitors must welcome its 90-minute spectacle with the same expectation as jolly old St. Nicholas on Christmas morning. One doesn’t walk under the marquee of the Radio City Music Hall expecting daring, challenging entertainment; they expect high kicks from the Rockettes, a comedic portrayal of Santa Claus, a little girl watching her toys come to life to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker music and a manger scene that seems pulled from a Christmas card. The elements are there, year in and year out, and audiences heading to the Spectacular seem satisfied with the nostalgia.

Over the years, there have been some welcome additions to the intermission-less show. A 3D trip with Santa Claus through the skyline of New York City was added a few years back, and the sequence offers a fitting introduction to the red-suited man. However, even the man of the hour can’t upstage the Rockettes, a troupe of dancers who offer precise steps in dizzying arrays of chorus lines. From “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to the unforgettable “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” when the dancers are on the voluminous stage of Radio City Music Hall, it’s tough not open one’s eyes a little wider.

Among the highlights of the highlight-driven show is “New York at Christmas,” which finds the Rockettes traveling around by double-decker bus to the major sights in the city. The sequence in Central Park with the ice skaters is magical.

The corny aspects of the show probably appeal to the many young audience members who fill the seats. The characters of Patrick and Ben, two brothers who debate the veracity of Santa Claus’ existence, provide the show with some narrative chapter headings, but the dialogue and acting are too over the top and dimple-in-cheek comedic.

Another aspect that can be lost on the enormous stage are the singer-dancers who perform on the far left and right boxes. They appear as ushers and passersby on the street, but it almost requires getting whiplash to take in their theatrics. Again, the eye is almost always drawn center stage to the Rockettes.

“The Living Nativity,” which closes the show before a final “Joy to the World,” offers the most vivid imagery of the performance. However, isn’t it about time that the Radio City Christmas Spectacular let the real animals, including camels, take a step away from the spotlight? They shouldn’t be performing in any show, let alone multiple shows a day to clapping thousands.

Like cooking a Christmas ham or watching A Christmas Story marathon, seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a bankable tradition that brings joy and family-approved entertainment to so many visitors to New York City. Some of the extra elements have changed, but the main draw is that chorus line of precise dancers who high kick the show into the audience’s collective memory.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Radio City Christmas Spectacular
  • Directed and choreographed by Julie Branam
  • Featuring the Rockettes
  • Running time: 90 minutes
  • Currently playing Radio City Music Hall at 1260 Ave. of the Americas in Manhattan, N.Y. Click here for more information on tickets.
  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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