Even after upgrade, Rockettes provide the kick at ‘Radio City’
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org December 16, 2012 4:20PM
The wooden soldiers are lined up straight — for now — in one of the classic routines from the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular."
When: Through Dec. 30
Where: Akoo Theatre, 5400 North River Rd., Rosemont
Info: (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com
Updated: January 18, 2013 6:13AM
I was living in New York City, and not yet in kindergarten, when my mother and I took the subway from Queens to Manhattan for my first encounter with the “Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.” At that time, the stage show by the Rockettes came paired with a movie. Oddly enough, I remember very little of the live show, but the movie — the premiere of “Hans Christian Andersen,” starring Danny Kaye — remains etched in my imagination.
I recalled all this as I watched the brief video history of the Rockettes that is part of the the touring edition of the “Christmas Spectacular” running through Dec. 30 at the Akoo Theatre in Rosemont. As it unspooled in a decidedly Midwestern suburban venue this weekend, I also realized that my initial experience of this enduring showbiz artifact came during its heyday — a time when New York itself seemed to be the eighth wonder of the world. Radio City almost went bankrupt in the socially shifting 1970s but was soon reborn like the proverbial phoenix.
To be sure, it is the Rockettes that have left a lasting impression this time around. A number of high-tech enhancements have been added to the show involving projections on a 50-foot LED screen, and they serve also as a supremely shrewd advertisment for New York tourism, as well as a brief if shameless advertisement for a sponsoring bank and insurance company.
But it is the astonishing technique and almost superhuman synchronicity of these impossibly leggy dancers that provide the real dazzle. Look carefully and you will notice that its 18 dancers are indeed quite individualistic in looks and personality, but their movements — every kick, every turn of the head, every bend of the knee, every placement of the arm, every meticulously calculated step, every flash of the eye, every seamless shift into formation — are flawless. And their Marine-like precision comes with flashing smiles (and what can only be assumed to be a harakiri impulse in any dancer who missteps).
There also are deliciously deadpan stares in that ever-enchanting early classic, “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” so brilliantly choreographed by Russel Markert (though it’s even better when seen with 36 dancers on the line); winking looks in the opening “Sleighride” (in which the Rockettes are decked out as Santa’s glowingly antlered reindeer); grins of goofy mischief in Scott Salmon’s now shopping mall-infused “Ragdolls” number, and pure, high-intensity tap antics in “Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Linda Haberman’s “New York at Christmas,” the show’s big “new number,” finds the Rockettes cavorting on a bright red double-decker sightseeing bus that appears to travel through midtown as it leaves Radio City, drives along Fifth Avenue, passes Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, enters a snow-dusted Central Park, and then heads back down Broadway to Times Square. The engaging ensemble of 12 non-Rockette dancers arrive for this number in a deft mix of street clothes, providing the show’s only nod to ethnic diversity. They also are at the heart of the “Nutcracker” number in which they incongruously dance the ballet classic in giant bear costumes.
The Nativity scene is kept relatively brief, but is awash in pageantry and a parade of lavish jewel-toned costumes that seem lifted right off the most ravishing of Renaissance canvases. It’s the New Testament story, with no attempt at all-inclusive religious/political correctness. Downright “vintage,” you might say.
One off-key note: While the New York production of the “Christmas Spectacular” features a live, 40-piece orchestra, here, all the music is canned. It’s up to the Rockettes to generate their own terrific vibrations.