‘Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes’ (2001)

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
November 26, 2001

The dancer is fetching in her slinky bra and harem pants. She has a splash of bright pink lipstick on her puckered lips and she pirouettes prettily for the audience.

Unfortunately for the men in the audience, this isn’t one of the leggy, yet wholesome Rockettes kicking up her heels in this number. Rather, it’s a dancer dressed as a ballerina bear in the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes” currently running at the Rosemont Theatre.

The bear’s pretty good, too, turning her heels out just so and maneuvering her way around stage wearing a costume weighing between 30 pounds and 60 pounds. Never mind it might not even be a female dancer underneath, but rather a man in bear drag. The point is, the fun-filled production is 90 minutes of magical entertainment.

The formula for this production hasn’t changed much since its Chicago area debut five years ago. The Saturday matinee performance incorporated the same vignettes I saw in 1999. But that didn’t take away from the fun, especially when the Rockettes hit the stage.

For the past 75 years, the Radio City Rockettes have been entertaining audiences with their precision dancing, dazzling smiles and, of course, their impossibly long, shapely gams. Though the 18 dancers range in height from 5 feet 5-1/2 inches to 5 feet 10-1/2 inches–spaced perfectly apart–they appear to be the same size. They also dance as if they are one and demonstrate tapping skills as impressive as their patented high kicks.

One of the most anticipated elements of the show is the “Parade of Wooden Soldiers.” First performed in 1933, the elements remain the same. Dressed as toy soldiers, the Rockettes mirror each other’s meticulous, tiny steps. Then they fall backward, domino style, as each dancer catches the woman in front of her. The slow-motion treatment is a testament to their powerful strength not only as dancers, but as athletes.

The production moves at a brisk pace and includes more than 300 costumes and 200 hats, each designed specifically for the “Christmas Spectacular.” While the Rockettes have enough charisma and showgirl glamor to carry off even the ugly beige stockings they’re forced to wear, some of the other cast members look as if they had stumbled onto the set of a clearance sale for bland, ugly costumes.

That said, the set decoration is spectacular. The gold and white theme running through the “Carol of the Bells” number is lovely. But the piece de resistance is left for last.

Impeccably staged, the “Living Nativity” is a holiday card come to life. First presented at Radio City Music Hall in 1933, this re-enactment of Christmas Eve is resplendent in its rich colors and gorgeous tapestry. The live animals, including five sheep, three camels and two donkeys, are well behaved and add to the pageantry of the moving finale.

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