It has always been a dream of mine to see New York City at Christmas time. There’s just something magical about being present among the hustle and bustle during the most wonderful time of the year. The city is always alive, but there’s a new energy among the people and streets as so many gather together at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, lit up and glowing on the crisp wintery night. There are so many holiday-inspired activities scattered throughout NYC, including one special Christmas show, for those avid Broadway goers like myself. The Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes is the perfect way to ring in the holiday season!
Playing in the historic Radio City Music Hall, the Christmas Spectacular has been a staple in New York City since 1933. The 90-minute show returns annually and features a wide range of entertainment, such as singing, ballet, tap dancing, and even ice skating! While it stars the Rockettes, who perform in the majority of the segments, there are other skits and bits scattered throughout, which provide the dance troupe time to change outsets and sets. If you’re in NYC for the holiday season, the Christmas Spectacular should be at the top of your list of must-sees!
[Warning: possible spoilers of the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes are below!]
Being a part of history at Radio City Music Hall
One of the friends I took this trip to NYC with loves the Rockettes more than anything, and yet had never seen them live before. So seeing the Christmas Spectacular was at the top of her list, and everyone present agreed. However, we didn’t tell her until we got to NYC that we also purchased extra tickets for a tour of Radio City Music Hall and a meet and greet with a Rockette. While this tour wasn’t necessary to enjoy the show, it did enhance the experience vastly. It gives you a look at the Music Hall and the history of the Rockettes that you only get from this added experience.
The Radio City Music Hall tour runs for about an hour, which we did right before our show time at the suggestion of the box office. For this experience, a guide takes you around the theater, in both public areas and areas typically off limits, explaining the history of the building and the Rockettes.
For example, patrons learn about how the art in the lobby and hallways came to be, and why the entryway is painted black and features many diamond shapes (spoiler: it’s to keep those coming in quiet!). Some other highlights were seeing the theater from the sound booths located high above the crowd, and also being able to sit in some of the original seats. You truly understand how magnificent Radio City Music Hall is from the tour, which helped me to appreciate the Christmas Spectacular when it began.
Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes
After the tour, it was time for the main event, the Christmas Spectacular that brought us to this very musical hall. The show began with two ornate organs sliding out of the sides of the stage, although no pipes were visible. Instead, they are buried around the stage and in the ceiling, sending the music out through vents.
After a few minutes of Christmas tunes from the organs, they disappear into the walls once again, and the orchestra rises from below the stage. The show finally begins, as the music swells and the curtains rise to reveal the Rockettes dressed as reindeer. The show has about nine segments, all of which feature music and dancing of some variety. There are some key pieces that never change, like the dance of the wooden soldiers, which has been a staple piece for the Rockettes. Their dances have a lot of tap dancing, as well as synchronized movements across the stages.
There’s also a Nutcracker Suite segment, a classically performed ballet that follows that well-known story. This piece is almost identical in my head to the one I saw as a child when it stopped in Detroit on its national tour. Same with the closing number, which is a nativity story, that features live animals and a reenactment. That one also lives strongly in my mind’s eye and felt the same.
However, other segments felt different or original, although I will say I haven’t seen the Christmas Spectacular since I was a young adult. One of these, the Christmas in New York number, felt rich and exciting, especially having now experienced this for myself. The show moves quickly from one piece to another, with short interludes, like the 3D film of Santa flying from the North Pole to Radio City. Santa Claus is the tying factor from piece to piece, with a slight overarching narrative about bringing Christmas to all the good boys and girls in New York and around the world!
The positives and negatives of the Christmas Spectacular
As stated above, the 90-minute show moves quickly, which means that it feels like it’s barely started and it’s over. One of the ways I measure a show is how often I look at my watch, the more I look at it, the more impatient I am for the show to be over. During the Christmas Spectacular, I didn’t look at my watch once. Again, part of that is because it’s a fast-paced show, but also the show is filled with so much joy and magic, that you can’t help but be entertained for the entirety.
I felt like a child again, filled with the wonderment of the holiday season. When Santa popped up in the crowd right in front of me, I was as excited as a kid again, and I wasn’t the only one. Every adult and child in that theater were in the same boat. The vibes were immaculate, as everyone present soaked up the Christmas cheer from start to finish.
The production quality of the show was also impressive, with every number featuring dazzling costumes, well-choreographed dances, and spectacle like you wouldn’t believe. It’s wild to think that some of these aspects haven’t changed in years, such as the stage that rises above and below the sight line, creating interesting dynamics for the eyes to behold.
As someone who attends musicals and shows more than the average person, there were some aspects that I was disappointed in, none of which had anything to do with the actual performances. During this busy season of the year, the Radio City Rockettes put on up to four performances a day, which means that things have to run on time and like a well-oiled machine.
While the show was indeed on time, the well-oiled part didn’t happen the way it should have. The doors onto the floor opened rather close to performance time, meaning that as the show began, people were still scrambling to get to their seats. This was distracting from the Rockettes’ first number as well as the 3D video that plays just after. Thankfully, by the time Santa pops up in person, almost everyone was in their seats, and not standing in front of the stage. That being said, that brings me to my other problem. This show is geared toward children and families, unlike many other shows I’ve seen on Broadway or in Detroit.
As a result, those present at the Christmas Spectacular didn’t exhibit behaviors I was used to. There was a lot more talking and moving than usual, such as getting up and leaving seats and such. At times, this distracted me from the performances, especially if the people stood up right in front of me. I had to remind myself frequently which crowd this show was geared towards, which helped to calm the annoyance I felt towards others disrupting the show.
Final thoughts on the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes
Overall, the Christmas Spectacular was a good experience and one I highly suggest for those looking for something special in NYC during the holidays. The Rockettes are the quintessential holiday classic along with the Christmas Tree, so missing out on them would be a travesty if you visit the city. It just so happens that both Radio City and Rockefeller Center are near each other, so you can knock out two birds with one stone, achieving peak holiday cheer in the afternoon.
The Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes is running until January 4! Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you have seen the Christmas Spectacular or plan to check it out this year!