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March 14th, 2008

TRADITION AND TECHNOLOGY: RADIO CITY ROCKETTES!

by Lawrence Pfeil Jr

75 years in the making and two years in the planning added up to one sparkling celebration in this year’s diamond anniversary edition of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, starring the world famous Rockettes. In the most dramatic “re-imaging” in the show’s history, every production element from the music to the choreography to costumes to the scenery to the special effects had either been spruced up, re-conceived, or was brand new in what promised (and delivered) to be the most spectacular of spectacles…ever.

According to Linda Haberman, the show’s director and choreographer, “our goal was to create a dynamic holiday celebration that incorporates all the magic, warmth and showstopping elements of the Christmas Spectacular that our audiences have loved and embraced for the past 75 years – and then take it a step further. We’ve pushed the possibilities for more daring Rockette choreography, created dazzling new costume looks, incorporated technology and stage effects in a way that makes the audience feel as though they are part of the magic onstage, while still honoring this 75-year beloved holiday tradition.”

Originally presented in 1933 as a “gift” between movie screenings to New Yorkers in the deepest depths of the Depression, the Christmas Spectacular has become the centerpiece of New York City at Christmas and America’s #1 holiday production. It is seen by more than a million people from around the world every year during its annual eight week run, and an estimated 62 million people since it began. With that kind of history the theatrical elves at Radio City Music Hall and MSG Entertainment are paying special attention to the traditions of the past but adding a twinkle of modern day theatrical magic.

As Jonathan Hochwald, executive vice president of productions at MSG Entertainment put it, “we wanted the experience to begin for our patrons the moment they walk through the doors at Radio City. From the interior of the Music Hall to the performance on stage, we have created an entirely immersive experience that captures the warmth and magic of Christmas like never before.”

Parts of the show that have been running since the very beginning are perennial favorites “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and the inspirational “Living Nativity,” and they remain at the heart of the production. However, this year the Rockettes legendary precision choreography is even more complex and intricate. The beauty of a birth on a starry night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago has also been re-envisioned so its emotional impact will fill the Great Hall with awe and wonder.

A new scene direct from the North Pole is an homage to a classic Rockette production number, “Night of the Living Dolls,” originally choreographed in 1933 by Rockette founder, Russell Markert, The Rockettes will perform a ragdoll cancan kick line when Santa’s gigantic 25 foot high warehouse of toys unfolds before the audience’s eyes. Bridging the past and celebrating the present was another new scene, a glittering “75 Years Christmas Card.” Delivered by the Rockettes, the card will offer a rare and fascinating film retrospective of the Christmas Spectacular. Then the Rockettes were celebrated as the stars of the show and sparkled in the brand new “Let Christmas Shine,” just before the breathtaking “Living Nativity” grand finale.

But it’s the state of the art technology that set this diamond jubilee apart from the Christmas Spectacular of years past. Audiences filled Radio City Music Hall with plenty of “oohs,” “ahhs,” and applause when they saw all the theatrical magic, from Santa flying over the Great Stage to the 3-D film, which had been lengthened and enhanced for this years production, shown on the world’s largest indoor LED screen.

The most stunning and exciting stage effects were the ones brand new to this year’s production. Theatre goers watched as The Rockettes climbed aboard a nearly life size doubledecker bus. Then they were off on a whirlwind tour of New York City at Christmas, passing famous landmarks like the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty before culminating in Times Square where the sky was filled with real fireworks! And even if “the weather outside is frightful” audience members cheered with amazment and joy “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” when the flakey white stuff started falling down on them inside Radio City Music Hall!

From its world famous “eye high kicks” to its glittering new pyrotechnics, the Christmas Spectacular sparkled and shone with tradition and technology like never before–and for the 75th time! This dizzying array of glitz and glamour proved there is no better place to celebrate the Christmas season than in New York, at Radio City Music Hall. If you missed it this year thinking it’s un-cool or too touristy, then frankly you are a moron. This is an amazing experience, so drag a friend from out of town if you need a beard, just go!

All photo credits are MSG Entertainment.
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