After an illustrious 77 years, The “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” has finally come to the Providence Performing Arts Center! And with the Providence premiere came the premiere of Corey Whalen from Foster, RI as a new Radio City Rockette! Despite its corniness and preference for glamour over depth, the show has a lot of heart and is great fun for the whole family. Having never seen the show myself, I didn’t really know what to expect besides pretty women and high-kicking chorus lines. They are definitely there- it may be worth it to see the show just to watch the Rockettes’ impressive eye-high kicks, but the show has other appeals as well.
The show begins with the Rockettes as Santa’s reindeer pulling his sleigh, and from there we travel from Providence to Fifth Ave. in Manhattan to Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. Santa is a boisterous and jovial larger than life presence on stage who successfully puts the audience in a Christmas state of mind, although Mrs. Claus’ singing slightly misses the mark at some times. But at its core, the show is about the dancing, so the overall decent vocals of the cast can be overlooked.
Many different styles of dancing are featured in the performance, including ballet, tap, and contemporary. All the dancers perform deftly and accurately, especially the Rockettes, who are almost robotic in their precision. Even when bogged down in heavy costumes, such as in the magical teddy bears come-to-life number, the dancers never miss a beat in their graceful execution of the steps. As an example of modern synchronized dancing, the “Christmas Spectacular” can’t be beat. That said, there is little plot to the show besides Santa working to make sure Christmas Eve runs smoothly all over the world. The revue favors eye-catching dance moves and costumes over story, but that’s fine because the point of the show is to transmit the magic and heart of the holidays, which it does quite well.
Over 300 colorful, extravagant costumes are featured over the show’s two hours, and they are, well, spectacular. The Rockettes’ wooden-soldier outfits are as just as classic as the day the Spectacular premiered in 1933 and are a joy to watch, the living toys straight out of Santa’s toy box are fantastically full of whimsy, and the Three Magi and their caravans (including live camels, sheep, and a donkey) in the final emotional Living Nativity scene are true to the imagined clothing of Biblical times. However, at times the bright costumes of the ensemble (the other dancers in the show who were on when the Rockettes had costume changes) felt too 1960s and reminded me of an Old Navy commercial.
The Providence adaptation of the show is a bit different from the New York version, and I’m not talking about the references to Roger Williams Park and Benefit Street. According to some Rockettes I spoke to post-performance, the PPAC show is more “classic” than the New York one. Certain scenes, no longer present at Radio City, have been revived for the Rhode Island audience, and the sets are toned-down. This still makes for an enjoyable time, although devoted fans of the New York show may be disappointed to with this more retro variation (even though I didn’t even realize there was a difference until I was explicitly told of it).
All in all, if you are looking give your family a holiday experience this Thanksgiving they won’t soon forget, take them to see the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” at the PPAC. I guarantee everybody will leave with a smile on his or her face.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is playing at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI. It premiered on November 12 and is running until November 28. Visit ppacri.com or call 401-421-ARTS for ticket information.