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Radio City Christmas Spectacular 2012

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Photo provided by MSG Entertainment.

About a quarter of the way into this year's Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Santa Claus (the ever-present, and ever-redoubtable, Charles Edward Hall), strides to the center of the enormous Radio City Music Hall stage to crow about the Rockettes. He delivers some version of this speech every year, of course, but 2012 marks a notable departure from his usual effusive praise, because this time he's less focused on the Rockettes of the present—given their 72 superbly toned, ever-kicking legs, they can obviously fend for themselves—than those of the past.

His rattling off of a brief history of the acclaimed troupe's devotion to style is accompanied by six models' flaunting of the company's previous costumes. The beginnings, in the late 1920s and early '30s, were flamboyant, almost cartoonish, in representing the injection of forced good spirits into an era wracked with economic uncertainty. Each new decade has rethought the clothes, passing through designs touting post–World War II exuberance, 1960s equality-minded chic, 1970s excess, and finally the sleek glamor we know today. What the sequence makes clear is that, although the Rockettes' looks have changed with their times, their uniqueness, like that of the show around them, has never flagged.

We should all be so lucky at 85! And if the dozens of dancers are indeed celebrating this major milestone anniversary this year, none of them lets any aspect of the franchise show its age. Sure, there's "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," which has been an integral part of the Spectacular from the start. But the glow of its artistry is yet undiminished, its focus on precision of movement and the intricacy its deceptively "barely there" choreography remaining thrilling now because of how little attention it calls to itself. While much choreography on Broadway (and, let's face it, in the rest of this particular show) seeks to dazzle with volume, the soldiers who march a mile around the stage know that less can certainly be more.

Rest assured, however: Any lingering ravages of the economic downswing of previous years has not much affected the rest of the "more" here. Conceiver-director-choreographer Linda Haberman has kept spirits high and the proceedings lavish, the bulging orchestra (under Gary Adler's musical direction), the towering sets (designed by Patrick Fahey), and the practically infinite costume plot (by designers Frank Krenz and the late Martin Pakledinaz) paying energetic tribute to the kind of good-old-fashioned wow-'em showmanship that few shows other than the Spectacular still bother to practice.

The lineup hasn't much changed from last year, but it hasn't needed to: Santa's sleigh ride to New York (with the Rockettes as reindeer); the increasingly kinetic, tapped-through "Twelve Days of Christmas"; the charming stuffed-animal Nutcracker; the "New York at Christmas" city tour (complete with onstage double-decker bus); and the five-scene miniplay about a mother searching for the perfect toy for her daughter who discovers that family time is even more important are all intact and as effective—and transporting—as ever. And the "Living Nativity" climax is still a gorgeous and haunting way to wrap up the festivities, and the evening's most unforgettable element.

That it treats one of the few stories here older than that of the Rockettes probably has something to do with that. After all, there aren't that many ways to top the sight of the 36 women who, by virtue of their stunning looks and even more stunning talent, overshadow the multimillion-dollar production surrounding them—that's its own kind of miracle. And one that, like the "Living Nativity," New Yorkers, and Americans in general, should be heartened to see nearly nine decades later, kicking—and reaching—as high as ever.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Through December 30
Radio City Music Hall is located on 6th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Radio City Music Hall

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