Review by Robin Breon
Well, something big and brassy was needed to fill up the Hummingbird Centre during the holiday season now that the annual production of The Nutcracker by the National Ballet has moved into their new home in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (a.k.a. the new opera house). And what could be better than an import from New York's Radio City Music Hall, breathlessly billed as the first time ever in Canada for that perennial toe tapping, high kicking troupe known as The Rockettes?
Canada might have been a bit recalcitrant in their reluctance to get on-board for the Iraq war and although stem cell research continues on up here at a ferocious pace much to the chagrin of the Bush administration, given an opportunity to step up to the plate when it comes to sucking up a bit of home-grown American culture, Canadians stand second to none. And the folks just love 'em to death.
Let me say unashamedly right up front that as an ex-pat American living up North for almost 30 years now, this was my first time, too. And I must say there was much to like about the show but there were also some major cringe moments.
First, I find it strange that there is no writing credit given in the program for the book that accompanies the show. Although everyone comes for the dancing, it is very much a book show driven by characters that segue between the nine scenes. Yes, its true, the book is very weak with John Paul Almon as Santa Claus doing cruel yeoman's work trying to bridge the story from one scene to the next. He isn't helped by a foolish dunderhead of a Mrs. Claus (Bethe Austin) along with their various Elves who could be given much more interesting things to do and say. Well, this is all pooh-poohing on my part because after all everyone has come to see the Rockettes and everything in between is really just filler - although my point is that it does not have to be.
So, now, the Rockettes. They're really good. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" number was a bit of "Rockettes do Fossy" which I loved and their signature piece, "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" was quite powerful in its way. Perhaps it was the sense of discipline that these women brought to the line. Every bit as accomplished as the most skilled Marine drill team - probably more so.
Is it blasphemy to suggest that the "The Living Nativity" scene be cut in its entirety? This bit of kitsch with its accompanying narration of "One Solitary Life" is so screamingly sectarian in its attempt to give primacy to the life of Christ that it is an outright offense to a pluralistic, multicultural society. The continuously bleating sheep during the most sacred moments of the scene released the audience to express most audibly what was on everyone's mind - this is really laughable. A shame too, because it mars an otherwise enjoyable and appropriate observance of the holiday season.