Radio City Christmas Spectacular | Dance review
“There’s nothing like a Christmas ham,” Santa jokes. He may be right. The baritone hero playfully makes light of a dancing Sugar Plum bear, who, moments earlier, takes one too many curtain calls after a humorous (and perhaps underappreciated) scene.
Ironically, the joke could apply to Santa’s employer for the night, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, now playing at the Akoo Theatre at Rosemont. By dance standards Radio City’s annual spectacular is conspicuously commercial, but this near century-old favorite is less ham than substance. The Rockettes—the show’s glittery stars—consistently provide lessons in precision and charisma throughout the program. There’s no denying the talent on stage.
The journey begins at the North Pole where Santa corrals his reindeer (the antler-wearing Rockettes) before a flight to Chicagoland. A sprightly tap number follows, and we’re thrust into our magical setting. The production maintains its classic traditions of song and dance, though Radio City ups the ante with a high tech landscape of city streets and flights through clouds, thanks to a giant LED screen backdrop. At one point, we get a scope of the Big Apple. The Rockettes board a double-decker bus, driving past landmarks like Rockefeller Center, Central Park and Fifth Avenue, a scene that elicits many whispers and gasps from the audience. Such a simple construction, and yet the moment feels authentic. Anyone who’s familiar with Manhattan’s electric vibe will appreciate it.
The high-kickers are at their best in numbers like Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, where the Rockettes stand together, maneuvering in finely constructed geometric lines. The centerpiece holds steady, while the rest revolve around the center. At one point, after lining one behind the other, the dancers melt to the ground like a set of carefully placed dominoes, using their weight to prevent a collapse. It’s slow to act, like watching honey fall from a jar, but it’s also the most dramatic moment of the 12-part performance. Will they do it? Can they do it? They do. And the crowd loves it.
Nostalgia is one of the Spectacular’s biggest appeals, yet the end feels archaic when a group of siblings, seemingly from the 50s, read from the Good Book. The final scenes shift the spotlight to the Nativity and baby Jesus with a heavy dose of good will (and glitz) for the good Lord. Somewhere in between, the Rockettes get lost in the transition. Still, you wouldn’t have to force me, or most, to see this show more than once.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes continues through December 30 at the Akoo Theatre at Rosemont. Tickets available at rosemontboxoffice.com.