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There's no spirit in this 'Spectacular'

Let me explain something. My sister was a ballerina. My niece still dances. I have, in the course of trying to be a supportive brother and uncle, seen ''The Nutcracker" something like 750 times. So when the Wang Theatre announced that ''The Nutcracker" was out and the ''Radio City Christmas Spectacular" with the Rockettes was in, I figured that I could use a change.

But all I can say after last night's opening is, ''Come back, Clara, all is forgiven. And bring the Sugar Plum Fairies with you." Talk about a soulless, charmless procession of Stepford characters and false cheer.

Let me explain something else. As you might have discerned from the byline, I happen not to have been born to a family that celebrated Christmas. But ... I can't watch ''A Christmas Carol" or ''It's a Wonderful Life" without using up a box of Kleenex. I get goose bumps when I hear ''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Given the stress that most of my Christian friends go through around now every year, I look forward to Christmas more than most of them do.

So when I say that the Radio City touring show is as dispiriting an attempt to capture the Christmas spirit, I'm not just whistling dreidles. This is a show that's all about merchandising and commodification. It's a two-hour ode to shopping with canned music, enhanced singing, and simulated joy. Even the girl who's brought onstage from the audience is a plant. The only genuine emotion onstage comes from the camels and sheep at the end of the show.

Oh, and the Rockettes. Celebrating Christmas with the Rockettes always struck me as akin to commemorating D-Day with the Playboy Bunnies. I've never been sure what one has to do with the other and after seeing the show, I'm still not sure.

The idea, I suppose, is for the Rockettes, like everything else in the show, to dazzle us with spectacle. And for about 30 seconds or so, it is impressive to see all those legs go up and down and this-away and that-away. Then it gets about as interesting, and as sexy, as watching a military drill band.

Which doesn't stop them from being the best thing in the show, given that Santa Claus is one of those characters who continually gases around the stage like a human beach ball and the other performers, backed by a relentless pre-taped orchestra, do more hectoring than singing with ''We Need a Little Christmas" and ''Santa's Gonna Rock and Roll." There's the famous ''Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," but it's hard to tell the wooden characters from the humans without a Playbill.

The numbers are mostly concerned with shopping for presents or hoping for that special something from Santa until the final scene, ''The Living Nativity," grudgingly reminds us about ''oh, yeah, Him" -- that other guy who had something to do with the holiday.

And, you know, that's fine. This is a children's show and if parents want to take their kids to the Wang and celebrate with a goofy Santa and the leggy Rockettes and treat them to a night on the town, it's harmless. I enjoyed sitting on Santa's lap at the old Jordan's (though perhaps a Rockette could have done some serious converting).

But if it is most likely harmless it is also most likely not transporting. There are moments in the show that are pleasant to the eye and ear -- the ''Christmas Dreams" pre-''Nativity" finale with ''White Christmas," for example, but there is nothing that lifts the spirit. That's what Christmas and the theater should be about. That's the kind of real Christmas spirit that is so depressingly absent from the ''Radio City Christmas Spectacular."

Ed Siegel can be reached at

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