The genius of Harvey Weinstein’s New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is that he and his sly collaborators — Diane Paulus (Pippin), Randy Weiner (Queen Of The Night) and Warren Carlyle (After Midnight) — have engineered 90 dazzling minutes of satirical avant-garde theater on a grand scale fit for the 6,000-seat venue. A semi-human digital postmodern extravaganza that brilliantly comments on all the holiday shows that preceded it, New York Spring Spectacular is positively meta, a million blinking LEDs casting ice-cold light on stars Laura Benanti (Nashville), Derek Hough (ABC’s Dancing With The Stars) and of course the Rockettes as they take us on a whirlwind tour of New York City brands. I mean landmarks. See what I mean? Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysterical Theatre couldn’t have done it better.
Weinstein scrapped last year’s spring show, Heart And Lights, just before its opening. The replacement begins with the Rockettes high-kicking it to Taylor Swift’s “Welcome To New York,” and one of the true pleasures of a live event at RCMH is the appearance of an orchestra rising to the stage from below. There’s a rip-off — no! sample — of the It’s A Wonderful Life opening in which the hall is bathed in starlight and the voice of God, sounding suspiciously like Whoopi Goldberg, dispatches wingless angel Jack on a mission to save, no kidding, a Gotham tour guide.
Then we’re in Grand Central Terminal, where Benanti, playing mean-boss wonder woman Jenna, is about to replace Bernie (Lennie Wolpe) with a virtual tour of the city. (I’m probably the only person in the universe to hear echoes in this of Frank Gagliano’s great 1967 play Father Uxbridge Wants To Marry, about an elevator operator about to be replaced by an Otis Automatic…). Wingless Jack convinces Jenna to let Bernie take us all on a non-virtual tour, and we’re off to the races.
Paulus, Weiner and Carlyle soften us up a bit with visits to the Met Museum and Central Park (the monumental sets abetted by Batwin+Robin projections and serious pinball-machine lighting by David Agress). Manet’s dancers float down from the canvas; hip-hoppers flip in the park like Bert’s friends in Mary Poppins until a big “Singin’ In The Rain” sequence unfolds with torrents pouring down on the umbrella-twirling Rockettes.
Then we get down to the hard sell. Flash! Madison Square Garden and the Knicks (really? this season?) and Rangers. Hmmm … MSG, Radio City Music Hall, any connection there? The tour takes us to Fashion Week (because we all know tourists book their visits around the semi-annual events which they can’t get into), with a longish parade of fashions punctuated by Jenna’s own designs (guess what? Leggy girls in LED-adorned skirts!). I’m telling you, it’s just savage, this Spectacular, it draws blood. Oh, and don’t forget Times Square — hey! is that a billboard for Finding Neverland? Genius!
All the while, the wristbands we’ve been given on entry flash different colors, making us, as the usher said, “interactive.” There’s a film clip of iconic NYC movie scenes and a 3D clip in which Lenape Indians fire arrows at us in our 3D glasses. The visages and voices of many well-known “New Yorkers,” from Walt Frazier to Donald Trump and Mariano Rivera, get cameos. I must admit my heart wept a little at the commandeering of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ “The Way You Look Tonight.” Then again, all might have been forgiven if only, when Benanti roped a mark in the audience into karaoke-ing “New York, New York,” he’d sung the song by New Yorkers Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. That might actually have shown some wit.
There’s a nod to Easter (remember Easter?) with a bunny who looks like an escapee from Times Square, and an Easter Parade bit at the end, but mostly the holiday has been scrubbed from the deal. The adorable little girl sitting next to me was jolted out of her nap every time the wristband started attacking her eyes. But that’s OK, the show surely isn’t meant for her. The New York Spring Spectacular is for the Wooster Group/Mabou Mines crowd. I’ve got that right, haven’t I?