By Hillel Italie
In its 75th year, the "Christmas Spectacular" at Radio City Music Hall is a relatively mellow affair.
The annual holiday blast marks its diamond anniversary with a lighthearted program, sparkling in appearance, but a little soft in the center, especially compared to director-choreographer Linda Haberman's truly energized show last year. Once you experience a virtual snowball in the face during Santa's 3-D ride through New York City, nothing hits you so directly again, not even the very real streamers shot out from the stage.
Missing, and missed, is Mrs. Santa's smashing "Man With a Bag." Back are the 3-D glasses, starry ceiling, Mighty Wurlitzer organ and, feeling a little pokey, "The Nutcracker" medley, the delight of dancing pandas not quite the cover for a certain lull in tempo.
Much of the first half is a showcase for the jackhammer taps of the Rockettes, including a pair of overlong numbers, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and "New York at Christmas," the dancers smiling from a Grey Line double-decker bus. The Rockettes also execute their annual stage-long collapse as a line of wooden soldiers, an extra-sleepy fall like the sag of an old mattress.
The second half picks up once Santa (the ever-hardy Charles Edward Hall) takes over, joined by two young brothers, doubting Patrick and believing Ben, who dare raise the question — does Mr. Kringle actually exist? (At $100 for orchestra seats, he'd better.) Patrick's conversion should be obvious to anyone who's seen "Miracle on 34th Street," and an express ride to the North Pole and a tour through Santa's factory, complete with a little kicking "cancan" chorus, seals the deal.
Happy endings are the rule this year, including for the traditional finale, "The Living Nativity," where the emphasis is now on "living." Gone is the darkened hush and the solemn, unseen announcer reading along as a scrim reports on the life of Jesus.
Instead, Ben and Patrick are the narrators and the story stops with the procession of animals and the portentous birth in Bethlehem. The audience leaves to a round of "Joy to the World," the snap of gospel-swing and the bright lights of commerce as the doors open to the souvenir stands of the Radio City lobby.
"The Christmas Spectacular" runs through Dec. 30.
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