New York Spectacular: Theater review by Raven Snook
At least the producers of this sensory-overload extravaganza know who the real stars are: the Rockettes. The lovely, lithe and leggy ladies deservedly get top billing, and whenever they're center stage performing one of director-choreographer Mia Michaels's exuberant dances, they're greeted with the kind of ecstatic cheers you'd expect to hear at a revival meeting. And why not? Their dazzling execution of intricately synchronized routines is worthy of worship, whether they're doing an aerobic act in workout wear to a contemporary pop song or a classic kick line in glittery fringe to an old show tune.
Sadly, the Rockettes can't stay in the spotlight for the full 90 minutes—even these seemingly superhuman performers need a break to change costumes and, presumably, breathe. But the good news is, the filler is less queasy than last year's Touched by an Angel framing device. Yes, this show is a revamp of 2015's New York Spring Spectacular. While some of the numbers (including the Rockettes' magical tap-dancing in the rain) and set pieces (amazing animatronic recreations of the Statue of Liberty, Central Park's Alice in Wonderland statue and the NYPL lions) have returned, the book, by five-time Tony nominee Douglas Carter Beane, and cast are new.
A family of tourists (appropriate, considering the production's target audience) get separated in the subway, and the sparring siblings (Jenna Ortega as disaffected tween, Vincent Crocilla as daydreamer) travel all over the city trying to reconnect with their parents. They visit the aforementioned landmarks plus Grand Central (where the boy bonds with Mercury, played by Tony nominee Euan Morton), the Metropolitan Museum (complete with animated paintings), Times Square (yes, the Naked Cowboy gets a shout-out) and Wall Street (the money-loving bull gives sage advice). Along the way, there are buskers, singers, street dancers, immersive projections, corporate logos, and tinsel and fake money falling from the ceiling.
It all feels like the most expensive and over-the-top I ❤ NY ad, ever. And yet, this celebration of the Big Apple is often hard to resist. From a technical standpoint it's always impressive, with arresting visuals making up for tepid (often garbled) dialogue and performances dwarfed by the cavernous venue. But the show's best special effects are the stylish precision dancers. Whether they're strutting down the red carpet in kooky couture to Madonna's "Vogue" or kicking up their heels to Sinatra crooning "New York, New York," they're guaranteed to convert even the most jaded natives.—Raven Snook
Radio City Music Hall (Off Broadway). By Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Mia Michaels. With the Rockettes. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.