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12/11/09
The SundayArts Christmas Theater Roundup
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Like everything else during the Christmas season, many New York’s theaters also become a winter wonderland. A variety of holiday shows are currently running for both your naughty and nice sides this season.

The oldest, and most famous Christmas show is of course, The Nutcracker, seen every December at the New York City Ballet.  The George Balanchine’s production turns 55-years old this Christmas season.  Midway through its sixth decade, it remains a delight.  Sure, it’s old fashioned and quaint—the mice look like stuffed bean bags, the Land of Sweets seems to be a pre-Technicolor, pre-saccharine candy store, and the only special effects employed are a giant, rising Tannenbaum and dazzling ballet technique—but if City Ballet’s Nutcracker (through Jan 3rd at Lincoln Center) is slow at parts, it’s relaxed pace draws us into its old world charms.  By then end, the lack of bling allows us to focus on the dancing, which during its best moments is more dizzying than the flurry of fake snow at the end of Act I.

For those who don’t have the time or patience for a full Nutcracker, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular has a mini-Nutcracker—complete with Toy Soldiers and Ballet Dancing Bears.  Like everything in this 90-minute blockbuster, the Radio City Christmas show is fast, expensive and engineered to entertain.  But unlike so many over-produced films and events, the Radio City show (directed and choreographed with military precision by Linda Haberman) delivers—it’s a spectacular that lives up to its name.  One stage you get an infinity of dancing Santas, a full-size Gray Line Tour Bus (complete with a quick spin around Manhattan), a 3-D sleigh-ride through Gotham’s skyline, three real-life camels, and oh, did I forget, the 50+ chorus line of Rockettes.

For all its high-tech wonders, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular (also running until Jan 3rd) wins you over with old-school show-biz charm—something that’s missing from Broadway’s attempt at Holiday Theater.  For the second year in a row, the glorified touring production that is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas can be seen at the Marquis Theatre.

Fans of the Danny Kaye/Bing Crosby movie should just watch it on Netflix—there’s no reason to pay Broadway prices to see a dated story (about two WWII Buddies who help out their old general by putting on a show) without any sizzle on stage. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (also through Jan 3rd) feels just as calculated as the Radio City extravaganza, but doesn’t deliver the same thrills.

All three of these shows are with in 20 blocks of each other in Midtown Manhattan, but there are downtown equivalents for edgier theatergoers in search of Christmas cheer.  I didn’t have time this week to see the Off-Broadway holiday offering, The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever at the Actor’s Playhouse (but then, the name tells you everything); however I did catch the Off-Off Broadway show Filthy Lucre: A Burlesque Christmas Carol.

A collaboration between Pinchbottom Burlesque and Collective Unconscious, Filthy Lucre is simple: a retelling of Dickens’ Christmas Carol where Ebenezer Scrooge is re-imagined as a woman with a giant gray wig, fishnet stockings, a glittery blue g-string with matching pasties (avec tassels, naturally).  Instead of running an investment firm, this Scrooge (played by Nasty Canasta) runs a divvy strip club—and is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghosts of Burlesque Past, Present & Future.  Not for the family or the faint of heart, Filthy Lucre (running through Sunday at Walkerspace Theater in SoHo) is amusing for anyone yearning for some holiday themed strip tease or fans of lots of Dickensian innuendos.  Nowhere else in New York can you hear Tiny Tim exclaim: “Undress us, everyone!”

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.