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The Radio City Christmas Spectacular

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The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Rosemont Theatre. Midway through this big-budget blitzkrieg of simulated Christmas cheer, an overenthusiastic Santa Claus reads a letter purportedly penned by two children in New York City. "Something terrible has happened," they write, referring not to the recent terrorist blow but to the fact that their puppy is missing. Rarely have producers of "family entertainment" turned a blinder eye to reality in order to reassure the audience that their world is impervious to unhappiness.

Yet for all the singing and dancing critters--teddy bears, snowmen, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, window box flowers--not to mention a truckload of maniacally exuberant singers who make Miss America contestants look like the clinically depressed, this machinelike pageant displays no more mirth than a purring BMW. Director-choreographer Julie Branam packs her antiseptic stage with folks wearing elaborate costumes and false smiles, and after two hours of prerecorded voices, uninventive stage business, and bloated finales, you may be ready to send up a white flag. Even the Rockettes' occasional precision drills, which rarely fail to dazzle, at times get lost amid the onstage clutter. The evening's one moment of restraint comes at the end during the Living Nativity; remarkably, there are no chaser lights around the baby Jesus's creche.

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