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updated: 12/23/2012 7:00 AM

Rockettes a wholesome, glitzy spectacular

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  • Rockette reindeer lead Santa's sleigh in "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular."

    Rockette reindeer lead Santa's sleigh in "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular."
    Photos by Paul Kolnik for MSG Entertainment

  • Rockettes hit the stage as rag dolls in "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular" at the Akoo Theatre in Rosemont.

    Rockettes hit the stage as rag dolls in "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular" at the Akoo Theatre in Rosemont.

  • Video: "Christmas Spectacular"

By Hilary Shenfeld
Daily Herald Correspondent

For a big dose of Christmas hoopla, you can't go wrong with this year's "Radio City Christmas Spectacular." Starring those famed high-stepping Rockettes, the show is a schmaltzy smorgasbord dishing up singing and dancing, a flying Santa, glitzy costumes, dancing teddy bears, toy soldiers and a double-decker bus tour through New York City, all with a wholesome razzmatazz that would make Donny and Marie proud.

The touring production, which has graced Rosemont stages 11 times, most recently in 2008, is a variety show at its best, tossing in some old favorites that date to the show's debut in 1933 along with new numbers that take full advantage of today's technology.

As the name suggests, there's Christmas aplenty in this show. Santa acts as emcee but also gets some starring roles, most notably when he explains how he can be in so many places all at the same time. At first we see just one, but soon emerges a bevy of others until finally the whole stage and beyond is filled with endless rows of synchronized Santas. He also takes a flight of fancy to his North Pole workshop with two brothers, finally convincing the disbelieving older teen of the magic of the holiday.

Some of the jolly old elf's favorites also take center stage, including matching sets of dancing rag dolls, one of which might make a lovely gift for a sister, and high-kicking dancing reindeer with lighted antlers who help pull the big guy's sleigh.

There's also an ode to Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," with a young ballet-dancing Clara surrounded by an array of plus-sized dancing teddy bears, and other acts highlighting the talents of tartan plaid-clad singers.

Costumes are as much a part of the spectacle as anything else, and the dazzling outfits elicit some oohs and ahhs. The 18 Rockettes appear in seven different ensembles throughout the 90-minute program, among them candy cane-striped dresses for "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and other slinky ones shimmering with 3,000 crystals each. As long as we're throwing around numbers, we'll let you know that the Rockettes perform 300 kicks a show.

New for this year's production is "New York at Christmas," a tableau featuring the tap-dancing Rockettes aboard a life-size, double-decker bus that, via a 50-foot LED screen, takes them to Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Times Square and other Manhattan landmarks.

But proving that oldies are also goodies, the classic "Parade of Wooden Soldiers" showcases their precision moves as the dancers, decked out in plume-topped hats, crisp white pants and red jackets as toy soldiers in stiff-legged lock step, form themselves into assorted lines and geometric shapes. The number ends with a bang when the boom from a cannon knocks them down atop each other in a slow-motion heap.

"The "Living Nativity" is still here too, though this time without the live animals. This edition starts out with modern-day kids reading the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus, then takes us back to the ancient world with elaborately-costumed wise men and their cohorts welcoming the baby in a manger.

Bridging the old and new is a black-and-white newsreellike video that recaps the history of the Rockettes, from their start as the "Roxyettes" through the near bankruptcy of their stage at Radio City Music Hall in the 1970s to the resurrection of the brand.

With its all-ages appeal, the show draws an audience of sleepy newborns, girls in sparkly outfits, boys in their best shoes and on through white-haired grandparents. Some of these folks have made this show a family tradition; with its feel-good vibe and spirit of Christmas past, present and future, it's no surprise why.

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