Radio City Christmas
Starring the Rockettes
Akoo Theatre at Rosemont
by Dan Zeff
Rosemont – The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is back for a holiday visit, celebrating Christmas observance in New York City. But this year’s production has as much to do with Las Vegas as the Big Apple. Many of the traditional components for the show have been dropped, replaced by the glitz and whiz bang of a Vegas stage spectacle. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. The current staging is still the terrific muscle pageant we expect from Radio City and for some people the 2012 version will be an improvement because we see get extra helpings of the Rockettes.
The Christmas Spectacular is making its eleventh Chicagoland visit, but the first since 2008. The 2012 version retains a few of the signature numbers of past shows. Most notable is the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, which concludes with the Rockettes, dressed in toy soldier uniforms, collapsing backward into each other in slow motion across the stage. The Nutcracker scene is also back to tickle the younger members of the audience, with dancers in toy animal outfits humorously performing to the accompaniment of the music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet.
The most notable absence in this season’s production is the menagerie of animals that appeared during the concluding Nativity scene in the past. No camels stride
majestically across the stage this season and no sheep baa in perplexity in the Bethlehem manger, and there is no rousing Hallelujah chorus to stimulate the audience to rise to its feet to join in.
The show actually ends on a muted note rather than the customary burst of religious emotion.
The 2012 version offers the joy of extra helpings of the Rockettes, that legendary chorus line of tall, leggy female dancers who have become a slice of Americana since they first strutted their stuff at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City in 1933. The Rockettes star in more than half of the 12 scenes, blowing the audience away with the dancing of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” scene. This extended number delivers the Rockettes in all their synchronized glory in one tap dancing exercise after another, the precision extending to each body gesture. The number comes early in the show and is so brilliant that it tends to put the later Rockette numbers a bit in the shade. The “Twelve Days” scene might be better suited as the finale, a sensational showcase that will send spectators out of the theater dazzled by the choreography and by the grace and charm of the dancers.
The major addition to the program is an eye-popping tour of New York City, with the Rockettes riding a real seven-ton bus that travels through Manhattan in front of a 50-foot film screen that takes the viewers down Fifth Avenue and into Times Square with stunning 3D realism. You won’t see a more vivid, breathtaking sequence in any IMAX theater.
The 2012 show also introduces a filmed nostalgic survey of the Rockettes in newsreel style that brings the past shows alive, a sequence that will have special meaning for spectators of a certain age, especially transplanted New Yorkers who grew up with the Christmas Spectacular tradition at Radio City.
As in the past, the show injects singing interludes between dancing scenes, allowing the dancers time to change costumes backstage in what must be an atmosphere of controlled chaos. By the end of the show the audience will be exposed to a complete catalogue of secular and religious songs of the Christmas season. The three young men and three young women who make up the ebullient vocal chorus are very satisfactory, especially for senior patrons who can fondly recall the singing of the Modernaires a half century ago.
The production is performed to the taped musical accompaniment of a large orchestra. The major speaking role belongs to a relentlessly cheerful Santa Claus who
ho-ho-ho’s his way through several numbers (the current show happily spares us an insufferable Mrs. Santa Claus that blighted the most recent visit of the Spectacular). In one scene, Santa is joined
by a couple of young actors. Together they fly through the air Peter Pan style from Times Square to the North Pole and back again as they discover the true meaning of the season. The moralizing is a
little heavy-handed but the youngsters in the audience should enjoy seeing a couple of their peers briefly share the spotlight with the adult performers.
The production fits nicely onto the large stage at the Akoo Theatre. The New York City production employs 36 Rockettes on its mammoth Radio City stage and we get half that many in Rosemont, but the dancing numbers never look skimpy. Indeed, the scenery and lighting as well as the costumes are top of the line. This may be a touring production but its professionalism matches what the tourists and New Yorkers are seeing right now in midtown Manhattan.
The Christmas Spectacular is a wonderful family show, though small children with limited attention spans may not be as entertained by the dancing as adolescent viewers. There was a preponderance of girls in the audience, doubtless wistfully imagining themselves high kicking in a Rockettes line. It’s a noble dream.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular runs through December 30 at the Akoo Theatre, 5400 River Road. Tickets are $30 to $75.50. For performance schedules, call 800 745 3000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
The show gets a rating of 3½ stars. December 20 12
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