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STAGE REVIEW

Little kick in ‘Spectacular’

Rockettes can’t save ‘Christmas’

The Radio City Rockettes performing in the “Sleigh Ride’’ dance number. The Radio City Rockettes performing in the “Sleigh Ride’’ dance number. (Madison Square Garden Entertainment/File)
By Terry Byrne
Globe Correspondent / December 6, 2010

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Very little qualifies as “spectacular’’ in the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular’’ now playing through Dec. 29 at the Wang Theatre.

Of course, the Rockettes, with their endless array of costumes, hundreds of eye-high kicks and “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’’ and Ragdoll numbers are impressive, but they are only half of the show. The rest is painfully bloated filler, and with every vocal and every musical note prerecorded, there is a sameness to the sound that becomes increasingly boring. At the performance I attended, the Trinity Singers from Nazareth Academy performed before the show and their lovely voices highlighted how bland and colorless the “Christmas Spectacular’’ sounded by comparison.

Produced by Madison Square Garden Entertainment, this production has a sports event’s half-time show feel about it. That’s not a bad thing, especially since the Rockettes’ routines were originally designed as part of a vaudeville-style variety show (emphasis on variety) at Radio City Music Hall, playing in between screenings of a feature film. But the stadium-like feel of this “Spectacular’’ feels forced and even garish at times, and cutting about 20 minutes and eliminating the intermission would definitely improve it. This touring version does not include the 3-D film that is part of the Radio City Music Hall version, and some other shortcuts have been taken that make the show feel awfully slight for the top ticket price of $79.50.

My first dance teacher was a former Rockette, so high kicks and precision combinations (as best a motley crew of little girls could muster) were always a part of our routines, and the split-second timing and collaborative efforts are certainly admirable. But part of the jaw-dropping effect of the Rockettes came from the sheer number of legs flying in the air, and this touring crew of 18 (with four swings) just doesn’t have the impact 36 once had at their home base in New York. Also, you can watch only so many precision routines, no matter how great the costumes are.

Although the Rockettes were supposed to be the focal point, my daughter found the “filler dancers’’ — the 12 male and female dancers who performed while the Rockettes changed costumes — more interesting. The brief selection from “The Nutcracker,’’ in which dancers perform on pointe while wearing huge teddy bear costumes, was the most technically challenging, while also the most playful.

Tacked on at the end of the series of Santa-led shenanigans (including an ad for Macy’s) is “The Living Nativity,’’ a part of the Radio City Music Hall show since 1933. Although it does re-create the parade of live animals, oddly presented behind a scrim, this pageant failed to create a somber or spiritual atmosphere, and the words that used to scroll up on a screen were not working at the performance I attended.

The local musicians union held a tasteful protest of the production’s use of recorded music, riding around the block and in front of the theater in a bus filled with musicians playing holiday tunes. Those performers, as well as the singers in the high school choir, were unfortunately, the liveliest elements of the entire evening.

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.

RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR Directed and staged by Dennis Callahan.

Set, Patrick Fahey. Lights, David Agress. Sound, Daniel Gerhard. Costumes, Gregg Barnes, Pete Menefee. Assistant choreographers, Annie Gibbons-Syke, Maya Pingle.

At Citi Performing Arts Center, Wang Theatre through Dec. 29. Tickets: $25-$79.50. 866-348-9738, www.citicenter.org/rockettes