New York Spectacular, a new summer show at Radio City Music Hall that features the Radio City Rockettes and some terrific sets, aims to tap into a similar demographic as Broadway, where more than two-thirds of the theatergoers are tourists. But its appeal to tourists is more direct. It’s basically a sightseeing tour of New York.
In a thin plot, the two children of a family visiting the city get separated from their parents while in the subway, and search for them in all the top tourist spots in the city — Grand Central Terminal, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wall Street, The New York Public Library, Central Park, Father Duffy Square (and the red steps) at Times Square, the roof of the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty.
More production photos at NewYorkTheater.me
It’s hokey, sure, but the sets by Patrick Fahey and the video and projection design by Moment Factory are so visually splendid they might make some audience members think it unnecessary to spend the extra time and money to get to the real landmarks. And at each setting, inanimate objects come to life, either through puppetry or actual humans or both – the statue of Mercury (Euan Morton) at Grand Central Terminal, the ballet dancers who jump out of a Degas painting at the Met, the Wall Street bull (Jeff Pew), the two lions at the library (voiced by Everett Bradley and Daniel J. Watts), Alice and the Mad Hatter (Kacie Sheik and Jacob ben-Widmar at the statue of Alice in Central Park, and the statue of George M. Cohan (Danny Gardner) in Father Duffy Square.
Sprinkled throughout – or I should say liberally doused – are dance routines by the Rockettes. They begin the show with synchronized dancing to “Welcome to New York,” written by Taylor Swift and Ryan Redding, and end the show 90 minutes later dancing to an abbreviated rendition of “New York, New York,” Frank Sinatra’s signature song. In-between they prance a runway to Madonna’s “Vogue” and dance in the rain, and do a production number that looks borrowed from Chicago (the musical, not the city.)
A mostly male crew of hip-hop dancers is added to the mix, but this is unmistakably, and deservedly, the Rockettes’ show.
Nearly everybody involved in New York Spectacular on the stage and behind the scenes has an impressive track record. For example, the book, such as it is, is written by the respected playwright and librettist Douglas Carter Beane (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.) Lilla Crawford, who plays the daughter Emily in alternate performances, was Annie in the recent much-praised Broadway revival. Danny Gardner, who plays both Dad and George M. Cohan, recently starred on Broadway in Dames at Sea. Euan Morton, who plays Mercury, is a Tony nominee for Taboo.
For all the pedigree, New York Spectacular has the distinct flavor of a well-produced and very long television commercial – I Love New York revisited. One even suspects an abundance of product placement in the Times Square scene, especially since only some of the products are for real (the sign for Junior’s restaurant is to “Senior’s.”)
Yet, while some who regularly attend legitimate theater will surely be tempted to use New York Spectacular as Exhibit A for the art form’s decay, it is difficult to condescend completely. For one, New York Spectacular is far better than the New York Spring Spectacular last year, Madison Square Garden Entertainment’s first effort to create a summer counterpart to their Christmas Spectacular, an annual tradition at Radio City Music Hall since 1932. Both feature the Rockettes and their precision kicks, a tradition older than most of the current dancers’ grandparents – and a tradition worth continuing.
New York Spectacular is on stage at Radio City Music Hall through August 7, 2016
Tickets and details