Review by Tom Millward
24 Jun 2016
Last night was not only my first time seeing the gigantic dance troupe known as ‘The Rockettes’ live, it was also my first-ever visit to the iconic Radio City Music Hall. The overwhelming venue is geographically and perhaps metaphorically the heart of Manhattan and this summer it is pulsating with its latest show – a 90-minute brazen, unapologetic and big-budgeted love letter to its own city – ‘New York Spectacular starring The Radio City Rockettes.’
I’m not sure if I can compare the evening to any traditional night out at the theatre, so I will look at it as what it is - a piece of entertainment, suited primarily for the tourist market, as well as those uber-patriotic New Yorkers, who love to remind themselves how great the Big Apple really is.
Douglas Carter Beane has written a story which allows New York’s greatest monuments and tourist attractions to be showcased with state-of-the-art video projections and humongous set pieces. From Grand Central Terminal to Wall Street to the New York Public Library to Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, they are all stunningly brought to life on a massive scale within the confines of Radio City. We follow a visiting family from the Midwest, who are separated at the beginning of the evening due to those crushing Subway crowds, and we spend the rest of the time with the two children (at last night’s performance – a very capable pairing of Disney Channel star Jenna Ortega as Emily and Vincent Crocilla as Jacob) wandering about their parents’ favourite NYC spots in hopes of being reunited with them. Simple enough. A nice touch by Mr Carter Beane, however, was to include the famous statues of New York, which are brought to life through Jacob’s ‘pure’ imagination and help guide the duo on their mission. Euan Morton descends from the rafters of Grand Central Station as Mercury, Kacie Sheik doubles up as Central Park’s Alice in Wonderland as well as the children’s Mom, whilst Danny Gardner does likewise as Dad and Time Square's George M. Cohan, and there is some amazing puppetry at work with the Wall Street Bull and Public Library Lions (and of course, the show wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by Lady Liberty herself!)
Of course, you need some sort of a narrative and dialogue to break up the musical dance numbers, which are a well-balanced mix of hits from both the pop charts and from Broadway. But make no mistake about it, the audience comes alive each and every time those infamous Rockettes grace the stage. I actually counted 36 ladies present and it is an undeniable rush witnessing them all in a single-file line performing simultaneous choreography. Their dance routines range from modern (to a remix of Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York”), Egyptian (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), to the traditional Broadway styles of “Singin’ in the Rain” (Central Park) and “Money Money” (Wall Street), and are as tight and professional as you would expect at this level. A particular highlight of the night was an ode to ‘Fashion Avenue’ as the Rockettes each donned a different, outlandish high-fashion costume and catwalked to Madonna’s “Vogue,” surrounded by the Paparazzi. I can only imagine the amount of hours these ladies put into their performances and my hat truly goes off to them.
Some of the song choices are predictable, but equally welcomed – Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind,” and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” – and some I could just listen to until the cows came home – “Pure Imagination” from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ The script is packed with the usual, unoriginal New York jokes about the self-centred, tough attitudes of New Yorkers and the jibes towards New Jersey, but this audience isn’t coming here for any sort of theatrical revelation. They are coming to be spoon-fed how great their iconic city is and they are lapping it up.
Those New Yorkers who can’t stand the overbearing site of neon, corporate capitalism on display in Times Square should probably sit this one out. Indeed the scenes in Times Square were plastered with the logos of such corporate monsters as Chase, McDonalds and Coca-Cola among others, who also (luck would have it) happen to be the sponsors of the show… Who would have thunk it?!... It’s no mystery how the producers are able to afford such outrageously expensive-looking sets, projections and props.
But if you are on the lesser side of the cynical spectrum, then you should take a trip and see The Rockettes at least once in your life. Now might be the time.