A Review

High-Kicking Holiday Show Returns For Third Visit

By R. J. Donovan

That tapping sound you hear in the Theater District is not reindeer on the roof.  Rather, it's The Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring The Rockettes, taking up residence through December 29 at The Citi Center Wang Theatre. This marks the merry band's third visit to Boston since 2004.

The show is pretty much as in past trips, with the main draw being the dazzling dancing precision of The Rockettes.  They sparkle every time they're on stage, and their footwork is razor sharp.  In short, they live up to their reputation as the high-kicking queens (princesses?) of show business.

The evening starts off, again, as in the past, with The Rockettes decked out as twinkling reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh.  It's fun and gets the evening off to an energetic start.  It's just odd that, in the next number, Santa, alone on stage announces he's brought a special present for us all.  A full stage backdrop with the words The Rockettes spelled out in lights appears and rises just high enough to show the famous dancing legs behind it.  It's a true show business "reveal," but there's little surprise, because we've already seen the ladies in the first number. An unusual choice from director Dennis Callahan, to be sure.

Santa winds up hosting the evening, and spends more time on stage than anybody else. And a little of Santa goes a long way here.

During the course of the night, the show touches on just about every Christmas pop tune from "Winter Wonderland" to "White Christmas," "Snowfall," "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," "Deck The Halls," "Let It Snow," "The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," "Happy Holidays," "We Need A Little Christmas," and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" as we traverse from Santa's Toyland to Macy's and beyond. 

We meet elves, dancing bears (teddy, polar and panda) , a trio of singing Motown flowers, some cheesy Christmas Trees come to life, and of course, the talented chorus of male and female singers and dancers who add tremendously to the mix of the show. 

One of the most amusing numbers has the stage filled with dancing Santas, representing the idea that Santa is everywhere this time of year.  It starts off with one Santa, and then two, then four, and finally a stageful.  Unfortunately, the button on the number is diminished when, at the end of the piece, the back wall flies up and instead of Radio City's spectacular video wall, there's a plain drop with multiple Santa's painted all over it, signifying that, indeed, there are a lot of Santas around.

The Rockettes are showcased in a variety of numbers ranging from Rag Dolls to a dynamic interpretation of "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" with the "days" explained through very specific movement and gesture (special notice to the 11 pipers piping sequence).  Arguably, their best number is the classic "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers."  It's nicely staged and beautifully executed with the climax a slow-motion domino fall by the soldiers (photo above).

As is traditional in the Radio City show, the finale of the evening is The Living Nativity.  Glorious costuming and live camels and sheep make this appealing.

To drum up enthusiasm, it would be nice to see some new elements in the show.  There's no question this is a scaled down version of what's presented in New York. There are fewer Rockettes, fewer elements and recorded music (and possibly some recorded vocals).  This year, however, the scaled down version has been further scaled down itself.  One has to question how wise this is on the part of the show's producers, Madison Square Garden Entertainment

The show certainly provides some fun.  And the Rockettes are icons.  But how many times are the same audiences going to return to see the exact same show (or a reduced version)?

While "A Christmas Carol" and "The Nutcracker" are holiday productions that rely on sticking to the story, even they reinvent themselves to keep audiences primed. The Radio City Christmas Show needs to so the same if it wants to keep calling itself "spectacular."

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is at The Wang Theatre through December 29. For information, call 866-348-9738.

-- OnStage Boston




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