Review: 'New York Spectacular' reinvents itself quite nicely

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Posted: Jun 28, 2016 12:34 PM
Review: 'New York Spectacular' reinvents itself quite nicely

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City is all about reinvention. Want to change something about yourself? Sure, go right ahead. As Taylor Swift sings in her love song to the city: "Everybody here was someone else before." Now it turns out even the Rockettes aren't immune.

A year or so after creating a nonstop, messy, sloppy show as part of their hope to create a non-Christmas event, the Rockettes star in a sleek, pretty summer musical at Radio City Music Hall. It's got new songs, a new story and a new look. It's reinvented, New York-style.

"The New York Spectacular," written by Douglas Carter Beane and directed by Mia Michaels, focuses on a pair of siblings visiting New York who get separated from mom and dad. The city's famous statues come to life to help guide them to a reunion.

Like all reinventions, the things that worked in the past have stayed, including the Rockettes' magical tap-dancing number in real rain, the animatronic recreations of the Statue of Liberty and Central Park's Alice in Wonderland, a fashion number with Madonna's "Vogue" and the LED jackets on the dancers in Times Square.

Beane's often-too-sweet script — the older sister learns during her day to abandon sarcasm and embrace her inner child — is also peppered with jokes only adults will get. (When one of the kids discovers the Naked Cowboy in Times Square isn't really naked, a character retorts: "You can thank the Board of Health for that.") Beane also gets in a few digs at Anna Wintour and Donald Trump.

Michaels, the "So You Think You Can Dance" judge, has taken over all choreography and directing duty — in the first one she did only the opening number — and her editing is as sharp as her twitchy, leg-lifting touches. She knows the stars of the show are the Rockettes — and they shine. There's something remarkable about watching 40 women dance in unison that never dulls.

The 90-minute show features pop songs like Swift's "Welcome to New York," Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind" and the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" as well as classic tunes like "New York, New York" and "Cheek to Cheek." The two lions that guard the New York Public Library do A Tribe Called Quest-inspired original rap and Vivaldi is heard during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The show meanders into some weird places, like an almost lascivious portrayal of corporate greed on Wall Street to the tune of "Money, Money" (especially interesting for a show prominently sponsored by Chase bank), and has an unwillingness to cut good musical moments that have no real statute tie-ins.

But there's plenty of magic here, particularly Tony Award-nominee Emilio Sosa's bright costumes and projections by Moment Factory that mix high-definition photos, bright animation, 3-D elements, live-action footage and complex LED sequences like the subway and the Empire State Building.

In the last Rockettes spring show, everyone got garish wristbands that lit up and throbbed in time to the beat. It was a little too Chuck E. Cheese. In this one, hundreds of tiny lights attached to little wings float down like butterflies. It's simply prettier and classier this time.

"The New York Spectacular" might not be perfect, but it's made huge steps in both editing and technology. It's reinventing itself quite nicely — like any other New Yorker.

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Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits