NEW YORK (AP) -- This year's Radio City Christmas Spectacular gets straight to the point: No organ overtures or speeches. Instead, the curtain rises to the sights and sounds of the Rockettes as reindeer, the opening of an efficient 90-minute show.
Charles Edward Hall, in his 25th year as Santa, again presides, comfortably in character with his padded costume and cushiony voice, his chuckle warm as ever as he declares — and he's probably lost count how many times he's said it — that the Christmas spirit keeps getting "better and better."
Director-choreogr apher Linda Haberman has made a few changes, but kept in most of the musical numbers that kids and grownups count on: The "Nutcracker" minisuite, a bit mellow for the grandeur of Radio City Music Hall; the long, creaking collapse of the Rockettes as wooden soldiers, with the clever touch of a pillow placed at the end of the line; the Rockettes waving from a double-decker tourist bus; a stageful of Santas, in the flesh and reproduced on screen, for "Here Comes Santa Claus."
The show is adjusted for the 21st century through a 3D action video in which Rockettes kick off against the gift-grabbing Humbugs. Santa's workshop also has a new look, but one fitted for the past, an industrial age assembly that reminds you of Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" (or the set for "Wheel of Fortune").
Santa is the host, but the recession is an unacknowledged guest. The mood on stage seems more one of resilience — grinning through hard times — than of celebration. The music sounds so locked in and mechanical, as if pre-recorded, that it's a surprise to see the orchestra emerge from below near the end.
For previous shows, the theme was "believe," as acted out by two young brothers — one a Santa skeptic, one a believer (You can guess which one wins the argument). This year, a mother frantic to get her daughter a "Jumping Jasmine" doll finds a friend in Santa, who hurries them off to the workshop.
Presents are handed out, but Santa reminds his visitors that the real gift of Christmas "comes from the inside." The words were warmly received at a recent performance, perhaps by parents who stretched their budget to buy tickets, or were rehearsing the line as they prepared to face the souvenir stands in the Radio City lobby.
The Spectacular continues at Radio City through Jan. 2.