If Christmas in New York could be found on the map I think most people would agree that its address would be Rockefeller Center, filled as it is with the tree and the giant decorations, and the fabled City of Radio … where Rockettes dress up as reindeer and dance their little hearts out, doling out Christmas Miracles to the tourists one high kick at a time.
I’d seen the Radio City Christmas Spectacular a number of times as a child but it was never a family tradition, so therefore it wasn’t something that got scheduled into the season as much as, say, hanging the stocking by the chimney with care or riding in a one-horse open sleigh (oh what fun!). So it wasn’t till around 25 years later, when some out-of-town visitors were staying in NYC for the first 2 weeks of December (“Nothing like shopping on 5th Avenue for Christmas presents!” they cried, credit cards extended), that my family decided it was about time to get ourselves back to the show. After all, it can’t all be Coach wallets and Tiffany trinkets … you’ve gotta have a LITTLE good ole fashioned NYC theater in there somewhere. And, say what you want, WICKED is a fine, fine show, but nothing says Christmas like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. (It’s in the ACTUAL NAME). Since that day around 5 years ago, I actually found myself back in that audience a number of times, always finding some reason to be there. It adds a little touch of holiday magic to the otherwise pushy, shove-y, where-the-heck-did-I-drop-my-glove-y midtown area.
First of all, there’s nothing like that first step you take into Radio City Music Hall … it’s so much of a time warp that you had better wear lace-up shoes for fear that the WHOOSH of Christmas Past knocks you out of your Manolos. (Or Bruno Maglis, for you fellas). And although I’m a good 2 or 3 feet taller than I was the first time I set foot in that movie theatre, it’s amazing how small that place still makes you feel. With New York City real estate what it is these days, space that has the luxury of a ceiling THAT HIGH is reserved for places like the Met, or the Met … or the actual outside.
Now, let’s be clear … when people go to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, they may SAY they’re going in order to enjoy the whole 90 minute show, but really, unless the Rockettes are standing across the stage in a line, kick, kick, kicking their way to Christmas, it’s all just a waiting room. No one cares about the Nutcracker sequence, that Parade of Santas, or the actual ice skaters skating on actual ice … and The 3-D movie (put your special glasses on … NOW!) that starts the whole thing — of Santa swooping through the city making his way to Rock Center like a mile-high cabbie — is fun, but nothing your local I-Max couldn’t give you. Just like everyone suffers through the first parts of Handel’s Messiah waiting for the Hallelujah Chorus, so everyone waits and waits at Radio City for the famed Wooden Soldiers number (which has been a crowd pleaser since 1933) and claps like mad every time those Rockettes break apart and join back up into another formation. “Yay!” and “Wow!” and other exclamations can be heard all around the Music Hall, people are dazzled and the audience is electrified. This builds and builds until the big cannon goes “boom” … and then, there they are, all those Rockettes in their Wooden Soldier outfits, falling down like really really really slow dominoes, while the orchestra ad-libs a downward arpeggio until the last Rockette lands on her well-toned little butt. Thunderous applause … it could end here, but there’s another whole bunch of show to watch.
Well, now, let’s not be too hasty. As much as I like to pretend I’m a cynical New Yorker with a hard candy shell, nothing chokes me up like that Living Nativity scene at the end (also one of the few scenes that still exists from the original 1933 production) when all the shepherds, angels, and camels come from miles around (or … you know, backstage) to honor that “one solitary life”. Even if you’re not a Christian, the message is still a powerful one … that any one, no matter how humble the beginnings, no matter how limited the means, and no matter how difficult the path, has the ability to change the world for the better. Cue music.
Then, just as you’re about to get all quiet and thoughtful (is THAT any way to celebrate Christmas?) they wrap it all up in Swarovski crystal and silver (get your light sticks out … NOW!) and the whole things ends with a big shiny sparkly glow. You wander out into the middle of Christmas, happy and sated, and all baked up like a gingerbread cookie. Okay, enough of that … Now go get those credit cards out, these presents aren’t going to buy themselves!
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is currently running until December 30th; most days have 4 performances with up to 6 performances on the weekends, but check the calendar for available dates and times.