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From Radio City, jingle bell schlock

Let's start with the facts.

There are camels on the stage. Also sheep.

A giant teddy bear in a tutu and shocking-pink eyeshadow plays the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Santa's elves are portrayed by dancing dwarves. (Or little people, as the press release puts it, but they are given every imaginable cliche of Munchkin choreography to perform.)

One medley segues directly from "Gloria in excelsis Deo" to "Deck the Halls."

Holy Christ.

I'm not using that as an irreverent exclamation. It's another fact: the concluding fact of the bizarre, not to say surreal, experience that is the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular." After nearly two hours of a garish, gaudy salute to the cheesiest and most commercial aspects of the season, the show suddenly goes all goopy and pious with a living Nativity scene. (This would be where the camels come in.) It would be funny if it weren't such a blatant attempt to make this schlockfest of a show look as if it's trying to be sincere about Christmas.

Not that there's anything wrong with schlock -- but it needs to be honest schlock. Sometimes, when the fabled Rockettes are doing one of their patented kickline routines, the glitzy excess of their costumes makes a perfect kind of sense. It's like riding a time machine back to a Fifties variety show, and it's good, silly, showstopping fun.

But there's too little of that and too much sheer ugliness, especially in the costumes. (Orange and lime green? For Christmas?) And you'd think it would be hard to make dancers look pudgy, but in fact glitter and blue chiffon flatter very few figures. And why, oh why, would you dress the Rockettes as droopy ragdolls?

Especially if you then give them a tap routine. They're great at tap, as everyone knows, but it's hard to imagine a less ragdoll-like dance. Besides, the fun of the Rockettes lies in their precision and clean lines, and that's exactly what gets buried under the giant orange wool wigs and baggy petticoats.

Still, the kickline of ragdolls doing the can-can is probably unforgettable. Even with therapy.

Somewhere in here, there is a show worth watching. Those Rockettes, for example -- the famous toy-soldier routine is still a knockout, and there is something just plain magical about their synchronized kicking and waving. But the virally multiplying Santas have to go. And the Santa voice that sounds like a movie announcer. And the tinny canned music. And the choreography on "The Twelve Days of Christmas" that, for "three French hens," has the Rockettes thrusting out their chests like prize pullets. Just be grateful they toned it down by the time they got to the eight maids a-milking.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at

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