Radio City Rockettes

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
November 28, 1999

To parphrase ZZ Top, the Rockettes have legs…and they know how to use them.

So it’s not surprising that the 18 leggy dancers were the stars of the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” which opened Friday night at the Rosemont Theatre.

Displaying no first-night jitters, the Rockettes lived up to showman Russell Markert’s dream of forming a chorus line that moved and behaved as one dancer.

This was especially evident in their trademark parade of wooden soldiers. Dressed as toy soldiers and standing in two formations, the Rockettes precisely mirrored each other’s moves, taking meticulous, minscule steps. The bit’s finale, when they fall backwards slo-mo, domino style, is a testament to their strength as athletes.

Even when dressed as Raggedy Anns, each dancer is floppy in exactly the same manner as the dancer next to her.

The production was a visual delight, with singing Christmas trees, dancing panda bears and a slew of minature snowmen who charmed the audience with their spritely steps.

Then there was the pairs figure skaters who had to do their routine on a tiny rink that left no room for throws or jumps, much less an axel or two. But it was a nice touch, as were the snowflakes (bubbles) that fell on the audience.

Basically the same production as in the past few years, the show could be improved if it focused more on the Rockettes, rather then the talented chorus of singers and dancers who are stuck performing sappy, holiday-inspired vignettes (and forced to wear some of the ugliest clothes imaginable). Think “Lawrence Welk Show,” and you’ll get an idea of what the songs sounded like.

The Rosemont Theatre never looks lovlier than it does during its yearly presentation of the Radio City show. Decorated with giant wreaths and other Christmas ornaments outside, the stage inside has a resplendent feel, especially during the show’s final nativity scene. With the cast garbed in reams of rich fabrics and the stage lit up like a starry night, the production re-enacts the birth of Jesus Christ.

Never mind that the oh-so-serious narrator sounds like he could be the same guy who was the voice of “Jack Handy” on “Saturday Night Live.” The vision is one to behold. Kudos to scenic designers John Shaffner and Joe Stewart for their brilliant work. Now if we could only see what their legs looked like.

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