Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Last night, we went to see the Rockettes. Ok, we really went to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, but come on. Nobody goes to that to see the sheep and the donkeys. They go to see the Rockettes.

I've never gone before because frankly I'm a football-watching heterosexual male, and anyway I've always thought it was a show for tourists. There are a lot of things tourists do in New York that New Yorkers wouldn't be caught dead doing. Hanging out in Times Square, for example (on New Year's Eve or any other day). Buying electronics at shady shops along 6th Avenue. Going to one of Disney's theatrical shows. In my mind, I put the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in that same category.

But, you know, there are things you do when you get married.

In some ways, I was right. It is a show for tourists, and there's a lot of fluff and a lot of filler. But that doesn't make what the Rockettes do any less impressive. They are amazing to watch. And it does feel like a pretty authentic New York experience; I mean you can feel the history both in the hall and in some of the dance numbers.

I honestly wasn't completely sure what to expect. I've seen the Rockettes on TV, of course, doing their leg kicking thing. I somehow got the idea, which I think is probably pretty common, actually, that that's pretty much all they do. I wondered how this could be exciting for an hour and forty minutes.

But it's not all they do. They are incredible dancers, both individually and together. I have a huge amount of respect for them now that I've seen the show. They dance incredibly complex routines, in perfect synchronization and in a number of different styles, from jazz to tap to ballet to can-can to, I dunno, what I can only call "Solid Gold". (Truthfully, their last number is straight out of the 80's.) These routines are incredibly long, incredibly detailed and occasionally outright dangerous.

It's tough to find any videos on YouTube that don't just focus on the kick line that ends most of the dance numbers... this is one of the few there are, showing part of their tap routine:

One of their most gasp-inducing acts isn't a dance at all, but the moment when all 36 of them fall like slow-motion dominoes at the end of the "March of the Wooden Soldiers". You can see a video of this here. (Sorry, the poster has disabled embedding.) You can see that the one bearing the brunt of the weight has to be propped up by four or five Rockettes behind her - these are muscular girls, and that's probably about 700 or 800 lbs. worth of Rockette being crunched together at the front of that pile!

Unfortunately, at the show we went to, one of them fell during one of the kick lines. It was so quick that my wife missed it - she just got right back up and kept going. It was pretty jarring to me, though, because they were so perfect otherwise. But they are human beings, and they can slip and they can fall. I don't think this happens very often, though... so I guess I should think of it as seeing something pretty rare.

As I was watching, I kept wondering to myself how this show hasn't been shut down through some misguided attempt at political correctness. These women are all highly skilled dancers, but let's be honest - part of the attraction is obviously just seeing a bunch of hot chicks in skimpy outfits doing eye-high leg kicks over and over. It's dead sexy in a classy, wholesome sort of way. It's like a Vegas show but it's marketed to families. I don't really understand how it's survived, but I'm happy it has. A lot of it feels like a throwback to an era when New York was both glamorous and unsanitized. The producers have even tried to retain as much of the original 1930's art deco styling of both the hall and the costumes as they can. And my wife found this "fun stuff" down by the womens' bathroom:

I guess those are probably some of their historical costumes. They didn't wear those last night, but they wore similar things.

Anyway, I really doubt you could start a show like this today in a major concert hall and have it be a long-running mainstream success. Which is a shame!

I do have some major nits to pick, though.

The scenes between dance numbers feel like they exist for no reason other than to give the Rockettes some time to breathe and change into a different outfit. I'm sure that really is true, but they could at least give some lip service to an attempt at some sort of story, to some half-decent songs, or to some good actors. The entire show outside of the dance numbers feels like a really, really cheesy afterschool special, revolving as it does around a jaded 14 year old kid who no longer believes in Christmas or Santa Claus. The songs in these scenes actually reminded me a lot of the music in the play written for "Waiting for Guffman" - if you've seen the movie, then you know that's not really a good thing.

I also was not a fan of some of the more obvious modern updates... there's a fairly long animated 3D scene (yes, 3D glasses and all) that feels gratuitous and unnecessary in a live show, and many of what I'm sure used to be traditional sets have now been replaced by digitally-projected backgrounds that just look cheap; like bad CGI animation projected with an outdated projection system. Come on guys, no shortcuts - build some actual sets.

And they do need to update that last number, especially since it closes the show. The classic stuff all works because it's classic; I'm not sure anything from the 80's can qualify as that yet. If they want to keep it modern, that's fine, but make it modern for this decade. Maybe they can bring the 80's back in 2030 or so.

Still, I loved watching the Rockettes, and I want to go back next year - with hopefully better seats. It's probably even too late to buy seats this year if you're reading this deciding whether or not to go, though maybe you can still get some nosebleeds. They go on sale in April (which we didn't know), so book early for next year.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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