Holiday Shows: From Ballet to The Rockettes

Holiday Shows: From Ballet to The Rockettes

In a city with its own brand of magic, everything seems larger than life—including holiday spirit. Celebrating the season in Manhattan is, for many, its own holiday tradition with so many festive activities, lights, sights, and merry things to do.

The energy and spectacle of the city heightens during the holidays as a reported 5 million people amble along the (sometimes) snowy sidewalks to catch a glimpse of the Christmas tree or go ice-skating at Rockefeller Plaza, stroll along 5th Avenue to gaze at the magnificent window displays, find that perfect gift at Bryant Park’s Winter Village, or see their favorite holiday show.

From both tried-and-true and emerging holiday traditions, New York City has a holiday show for everyone.

The Rockettes

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is one of New York City’s most iconic holiday shows, attracting millions of people every year since 1933. Hoofing it through multiple shows daily from mid-November through early January, The Rockettes and company put on a yuletide spectacular of dancing, singing and vignettes with some of the most elaborate sets, costumes and legendary kicklines ever seen on a New York stage.

This quintessential dance ensemble was founded and choreographed by Russell Markert, fashioning them after the English “Tiller Girls” he had seen in Ziegfield’s Follies. Markert’s singular vision of achieving ultimate precision, discipline, and uniformity among dancers lives on today in this 36-member dance troupe (originally known as “The Roxyettes”) that debuted at Radio City Music Hall on December 27, 1932.  

Today, The Rockettes perform their breathtaking dance routines in dozens of costumes (over a thousand in total) from their iconic toy soldier uniforms to Swarovski crystal-studded elegant ensembles. Every scene and song-and-dance number brims with holiday spirit, culminating in a living Nativity scene featuring a promenade of live animals and a message that transcends the commercialism of Christmas.

Ballet – The Nutcracker

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann’s imagination has enchanted the public since he first penned his seminal tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” in 1816. This immortal narrative about a living Nutcracker, an evil Mouse King, and a magical land of living dolls has inspired everyone from regular folk to artists and composers, writers, choreographers, dancers and musicians.

In 1892, Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation of Hoffman’s masterpiece was transformed into the world’s most popular ballet—The Nutcracker—composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Thousands of companies around the world have performed this ballet since its premiere, gaining mass popularity in the 1960s in North America.

George Balanchine—a former “Prince” in a Russian ballet company’s Nutcracker, and Founder of The New York City Ballet—debuted his own choreographed adaptation of this holiday classic in 1954, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®.

The Metropolitan Opera – The Magic Flute

The Metropolitan Opera delights holiday crowds with an “innovative and magical recreation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.” With the inspired vision of Oscar-nominee and Tony Award-winning Julie Taymor, this pared-down version of Mozart’s libretto is masterfully sung in English and features inventive sets and stage elements.

This imaginative tale follows the adventures of Prince Tamino in a wild and wondrous land where he is sent to save the Princess after being saved from a huge serpent by The Queen’s her handmaidens. In the process of rescuing the captured Princess, he falls in love with her and learns a timeless lesson about good and evil.

Written and performed in German-language genre Singspiel (song-play), this lavish production effortlessly flows between dialogue and musical numbers, emoting a full range of emotions and moods.

Handel’s Messiah

First performed in Dublin in 1742, Messiah, composed by George Frideric Handel with Librettist Charles Jennens, is a sweeping oratorio for symphony, chorus, and soloists based on scriptural texts from King James Bible, Psalms, and the Common Book of Prayer. It is believed to have been written in less than one month and was originally conceived for the Easter season.

The Oratorio Society of New York presents this yuletide favorite at legendary Carnegie Hall every year. Handel’s Messiah is staged on the 2,804-seat Perelman Stage in the Stern auditorium with acoustics that takes sound and “makes it larger than life.”

The tradition of standing during the “Hallelujah” chorus began during Messiah’s London debut when King George II was so moved he rose to his feet, prompting everyone in the audience to do the same, so as not to be seated while the King was standing.

Today, Maestro Kent Tritle conducts the 200 performers of the Oratorio Society in this thrilling NYC holiday tradition that began in 1874 and plays to sell-out crowds every year.

New Holiday Traditions

For lighter seasonal entertainment, there are several newer shows that are shaping up to be holiday traditions in New York City.

Three of these such shows include Elf—a high-energy musical comedy based on the 2003 movie of the same name—most recently staged at Madison Square Garden—and All I Want For Christmas Is You: A Night of Joy & Festivity show, starring Mariah Carey, and Cindi Lauper’s Home For The Holidays, both at the Beacon Theatre.

No matter what you choose, Manhattan’s host of holiday shows are sure to put you in a merry mood.

Look for next week’s blog, “Window Shopping: The Iconic Holiday Displays of 5th Avenue.”