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The ultimate in seasonal spectaculars has to be Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas show. Standards have varied over the years, but one could always depend on the Rockettes, who appeared first in the 1933 production and have been the main attraction ever since. The only thing I can think of that compares to their precision marching in the Parade of the Toy Soldiers is the trooping of the colour in the UK, although all 36 Rockettes are, needless to say, sexier.
This year’s edition is particularly good. A fast-paced 90 minutes includes state-of-the-art stagecraft, an LED screen opening sequence where Santa Claus rides in a sleigh seemingly powered by jet-propelled reindeer, whizzing around the Manhattan skyline and through skyscraper canyons made dizzyingly realistic by 3D viewers provided free with each programme. The Rockettes, in candy-stripes and gold ruffles, look like elegant Christmas crackers as they tap their way through Twelve Days of Christmas. Gasps, whistles and cheers go up from the 6,000-strong audience. It doesn’t take long for the line-up to start high-kicking their way through several more numbers and even ultra-genial Santa, played by Charles Edward Hall, has to take a back seat when they’re on.
Directed and choreographed by Linda Haberman, once herself a Rockette, this slick production leaves nothing out, from a pair of graceful ice skaters on plastic ice to the most original, compact version of The Nutcracker imaginable. Balanchine it isn’t, but with ballerina bears and a corps de ballet of baby bears and a youngster daintily en pointe as Clara, the concept is entirely charming in its lightly witty and perhaps unintended takeoff of the original. But my favourite features the Rockettes as rag dolls, a flop-about crew who, through Haberman’s skill, end up dancing a raggedy can-can.
With live animals, including a donkey, sheep and three camels as part of a serene Nativity scene, the show comes to a reasonably dignified conclusion. And even if you don’t go for the 54 swing-dancing Santas or the Rockettes’ celebrated stiffly collapsing toy soldiers, there’s always Radio City’s amazing art deco hall to enjoy and the 40-piece orchestra plus two organs. Spectacular indeed.
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