OTHER REVIEWS OF THIS PRODUCTION
Review: Rockettes bring the Christmas spirit Charles Runnells for The News-Press
MORE PHOTOS AND VIDEO
Rockettes: Brittany Lents on her favorite scene from the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular"
Rockettes: Jennifer Laroche on being a Rockette
FORT MYERS — "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular" swept into Fort Myers Thursday night, leaving visions of leggy Rockettes bounding across the stage dancing like sugar-plums in the heads of the audience long after the last bit of confetti had drifted to the stage.
The show - a Big Apple holiday tradition that stretches back more than 75 years - might not be an over-the-top Vegas-style showgirl stunner, but it sure whets the appetite for presents and carols and packages and trees, trimmings and everything that a good, old-fashioned Christmas encompasses.
Despite intense focus on the Radio City Rockettes in pre-show publicity, only half the show features the dance troupe. Instead of a non-stop dance-a-thon, "Christmas Spectacular" winds up resembling a solid, wholesome, satisfying variety special, the kind Dick Clark might have hosted in the 1970s. Kids, grandparents and families will love it. Jaded theater-goers looking for an intense two-hour tap-dancing, kick-a-riffic thrill ride might come away disappointed, but no one will go away feeling like a Grinch.
Fresh-faced youngsters in glittering costumes belt out timeworn carols, dip, flip and twirl and swish through doors laden with shopping bags. Playful elves steal the sugar cookies, Santa chuckles and grins and Christmas trees come to life (the candy cane mustaches on the trees are a nice touch). Don't forget the dancing teddy bears and a tittering, silly Mrs. Claus.
Santa, Mrs. Claus, the elves, bears and carolers - lovely though they are - cannot hold a candle to the eighteen Rockettes, who light up the hall whenever they appear. The precision, style and energy of the Rockette numbers makes everything else on the stage look like a well-crafted community Christmas pageant - especially the amusing but overlong "Teddy Bear's Dream" sequence.
Snappy dance number "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which sees the Rockettes re-interpret the iconic Christmas song while wearing vivid saffron frocks leaps off the stage. Imaginative staging accompanies the familiar tune as dancers mime each of the familiar actions - the "eight maids-a-milking" in particular catches the eye.
Colorful "Santa's Workshop" number, with the Rockettes dressed as rag dolls, with red petticoats, black glasses and enormous yellow foam wigs captures the energy of a tap number in a fun, fanciful spirit - and wait for the surprise with the toy blocks at the end of the number.
"Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," part of the show since its inception in 1933, features the Rockettes mimicking toy soldiers, with starched white pants and bright red shirts. The precision required - the 24-inch hat obscures each performer's vision - highlights the lock-stop details and perfection of the dance line.
Perhaps the most exciting number finds Rockettes in signature Santa-inspired costumes for a "Christmas in New York" spectacular that features dozens of eye-high kicks and what seems like a forest of trim floating around the stage. At times, when the entire line was moving, kicking, swiveling and kicking some more to the beat of Christmas music, the effect was hypnotic - a siren call beckoning audiences into the spirit of the season.
"Spectacular" divides its 105 minutes into twelve segments - each with a different set that arrives more impressive than the last. Glimmering, sparkling ultramodern Christmas trees give way to a gingerbread workshop and a stylized, snowy New York. Rockettes enter from a bright yellow taxi or hop out of giant toy box. Sheep, camels and a donkey stride across the stage during the solemn "Living Nativity" finale.
For a show that traces its genesis to 1933, "Spectacular" holds up well, although it does offer only one particular Westernized Christian take on holiday traditions, including the moving "Living Nativity" scene, which ends with a passage from a sermon on the life of Jesus. There are no nods to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Solstice celebrations here, so don't go expecting multiculturalism.
"Spectacular" succeeds when it blends music, dance and the sizable stagecraft into compelling theater. Rockettes numbers soar, while other segments sometimes feel small in comparison. The show leaves audiences infused with the spirit of the holidays and sings to the joys of Christmas in all our hearts. Look for Rockettes numbers "Twelve Days of Christmas," "Christmas in New York" and wintry spectacular "Christmas Dreams."
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. E-mail me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.