Story: Returning to their roots in St. Louis, the precision dancing Radio City Rockettes perform a number of familiar fan favorite routines as well as sprinkle in a couple of new bits to herald the holiday spirit for young and old alike.
Highlights: Created as the Missouri Rockets in St. Louis in 1925, the precision dancers now known as the Rockettes are celebrating their 85th anniversary as the Radio City Rockettes. Since their Christmas Spectacular debuted in 1933, nearly 72 million people have seen the holiday extravaganza either in Times Square or in one of the cities where it has toured for the last 18 years.
This season’s version includes a dazzling, 50-foot LED screen in the background that features eye-popping visuals to enhance various numbers, most impressively the Act I finale, a scene titled New York at Christmas that transports the troupe on a double-decker bus through the streets of Gotham as the bus ‘winds’ its way through a city adorned in holiday decorations.
Other Info: The Christmas Spectacular is best appreciated by youngsters, who are the target audience in this family affair that more often than not seems plucked from the 1950s. It’s the type of show that would play well in Branson, where the Rockettes indeed have performed in the past.
Overly familiar routines such as The Nutcracker and the penultimate number, The Living Nativity, hearken back to the show’s roots and definitely show their age, even if they appeal to the tykes. Sprinkled in, though, are newer bits such as the very clever Here Comes Santa Claus that opens the second act, in which that LED screen is put to imaginative use to explain how Santa can be in so many places at the same time, with lines of hundreds of St. Nicks cavorting in unison.
Two numbers in the first act demonstrate the dancers’ disciplined agility. The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers showcases their skill marching in unison and then ‘falling’ in a handsomely choreographed bit that has the soldiers collapsing one after another in domino fashion. The Rockettes’ legendary tap dancing expertise is underscored in the engaging Twelve Days of Christmas routine as they take turns tapping out the familiar, repetitive melody in engaging fashion.
Brent Bateman is a jovial if perfunctory Santa who succeeds in his task to enthrall and entertain the children. Andrea Best has a small role as Mrs. Claus, while Colin Critchley and Gaten Matarazzo alternate as a wide-eyed lad named Ben who is transported to Santa’s workshop in the number, Magic Is There. Accompanying Ben is his initially skeptical, 14-year-old brother Patrick, played by Major Curda and Michael Kelly. Chloe Ellis and Nicole Leigh Jones take turns as Clara, the young girl who is swept up in the enchanting Nutcracker number with an array of animated toys.
Julie Branam directs everything with her own brand of precision, as the routines are performed like clockwork, both old and new alike, based on the original production directed and choreographed by Linda Haberman. Patrick Fahey creates an assortment of festive sets, resplendently lit by David Agress.
The copious and flattering costumes of the Rockettes are designed by Gregg Barnes, Pete Menefee and Frank Krenz. Daniel Gerhard adds the sound design, while Gary Adler gets credit for musical arrangement and supervision, with musical direction by Gordon Twist, original music by Mark Hummel and original lyrics and script by Mark Waldrop.
While the Radio City Christmas Spectacular plays it safe to the point of tedium for some patrons, it nicely fits the cozier confines of the Peabody Opera House, offering both children and adults the opportunity to marvel at the LED creations as well as the disciplined dancing diligence of those 21 Rockettes.
Musical: Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Group: Radio City Rockettes
Venue: Peabody Opera House, 14th at Market
Dates: Through November 17
Tickets: $26-$92; contact 800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of MSG Entertainment