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    The fabled Rockettes, jolly Santa, a 3-D trip from the North Pole to Sixth Avenue and 50th Street, ice skaters, a young ballerina, dancing bears, lavishly-dressed Kings from the East visiting the living Nativity, and a cast of 140 make up Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular. It's a cold, cold heart that can't get into the holiday spirit for this perennial favorite of New Yorkers and visitors. It plays through December 31.

    For more than three-quarters of a century, the Rockettes have entertained more than 65 million [here and on tour] since the entity began high kicking in 1933. Now, the show has been retuned, and reimagined. More than half of the 90-minute show is new. Director/choreographer is former Bway gypsy and one-time Fosse assistant Linda Haberman.

    The Rockettes dominate this new edition with astounding high kicks and military precision routines. There's their famed rag doll, "The 12 Days of Christmas," and "March of the Wooden Soldiers." The finale,"Let Christmas Shine" sports a tree that grows 20 feet high right before your eyes - decorated with 36 live Rockette Swarovski crystal ornaments to match the magnificent Swarovski mobile in the classic Art Deco main lobby.

    While the show is still quite, well, spectacular, an LED screen encompassing the entire stage has replaced the majority of actual sets that made the show unique in the world. There's still a huge symphony orchestra and, before the show, a concert by dueling organists on the magnificent Wurlitzers. Arrive early.

    Hard (Rockette) Candy Christmas

    This weekend, there will be 11 shows for the two casts of Rockettes, who are the primary star, along with Santa, of RCM's Christmas Spectacular. There'll be four shows Monday and Tuesday, three Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The dancers - 72 in all - don't have much time to spend with family and friends.

    Amy York, a Rockette since 1997, reports there're five weeks of rehearsals, from10 to six with just one day off. "Opening night," she explains, "no matter how tired you might be, no sooner than you step into those sparkly costumes and set foot onstage the adrenaliney pumps."

    With extra shows as Christmas draws closer, "getting shopping done is not as difficult as one might think," York notes, "mostly thanks to your laptop and all the online shopping opportunities."


    Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there'll be some cheer. "We bring the holidays backstage," points out York. "It's festive. We have decorations, a tree, and play Secret Santa. Christmas Day we have a dinner to which we can bring our families. That's very special and makes a huge difference."

    For much more Christmas Spectacular-related and Music Hall gift ideas, visit www.radiocitychristmas.com.


    Kennedy Center Honors

    The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts presented the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors to Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Bill T. Jones;  Sr. Paul McCartney; and Oprah Winfrey. The gala was December 5 and CBS taped for a Tuesday, December 28 two-hour special beginning at 9 P.M. aacc2010-Kennedy-Center-Honorees.jpgCaroline Kennedy hosted. Presenters/entertainers includ Edward Albee, Alec Baldwin, Christine Baranski, Laura Benanti, Carol Channing, Sheryl Crow, Christine Ebersole, Sutton Foster, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Hudson, Kris Kristofferson, Angela Lansbury, Matthew Morrison, Willie Nelson, Kelli O'Hara, Sidney Poitier, Chita Rivera, Julia Roberts, Chris Rock, James Taylor, John Travolta, and Barbara Walters.

    President Obama's Tribute

    "This is a season of celebration and of giving. And that's why it's my great privilege as President to honor the five men and women who have given our nation the extraordinary gift of the arts. The arts have always had the power to challenge and the power to inspire - to help us celebrate in times of joy and find hope in times of trouble ... Though the honorees possess a staggering amount of talent, the truth is they aren't being recognized simply because of their careers as great lyricists, songwriters, dancers, or entertainers. They're being honored for their unique ability to bring us closer together and to capture something larger about who we are - not just as Americans, but as human beings ... aObamMichelleKennCen.jpgJerry Herman ... never took a music lesson, but he always had the ability to play anything by ear. When he was 14, Jerry saw the great Ethel Merman perform in Annie Get Your Gun. In his words, "I got a load of that great lady and was gone." He was determined to be a songwriter ... That's exactly what he's done - penning songs for such iconic musicals as Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles and drawing audiences everywhere out of their seats and into the world of his imagination. Those songs earned Jerry a shelf full of Tonys - and he's still the only composer and lyricist to have had three shows on Broadway at the same time ... As Jerry says, "I never wanted to do anything but make people hum" ... In a case argued before the Court in 1926, the majority ruled that the state of New York couldn't regulate the price of theater tickets, because, in the opinion of the majority, the theater was not a public necessity. They argued, in effect, that the experience of attending the theater was superfluous. And this is what Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes had to say: "To many people the superfluous is necessary."  The theater is necessary. Dance is necessary. Song is necessary. The arts are necessary - they are a necessary part of our lives. [These honorees] embody that idea. Their work has enriched our lives. It has inspired us to greatness. And it is my honor to offer them the appreciation of a grateful nation."

    Theater Hall of Fame

    Michael Blakemore, Caryl Churchill, Brian Dennehy, Paul Gemignani, James Lapine, Linda Lavin, and Fritz Weaver will be inducted into the 40th Annual Theater Hall of Fame on January 24 in the Gershwin Theatre's North Rotunda. Director/playwright Joseph Chaikin will be honored posthumously.

    Eligible nominees must have a minimum of five major credits and 25 years in the Broadway theatre. Inductees are voted on by the American Theater Critics Association and Hall of Fame members. Terry Hodge Taylor produces the event.

    ATCA and HOF have made an egregious oversight year after year in not inducting late actors George Rose and Larry Kert. Their names appeared on the ballot several years, but never garnered enough votes. Considering their contributions to theater, shame, shame. Reviewing this year's list, and taking nothing away from them, how can anyone explain that Rose and Kert are no less worthy?

    Hot Off the Presses

    Philip Lambert's To Broadway, to Life! [Oxford University Press; 384 pages; 10 photographs, 80 music samples, appendixes, musicals chronology, endnotes, bibliography, index; SRP, $35] is the first complete book about the professional lives and works of one of musical theater's most loved composing teams, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Lambert, author of The Music of Charles Ives and Inside the Music of Brian Wilson, is a Baruch College and City U Grad Center professor of music.

    In 14 years of collaboration, composer Bock and lyricist Harnick wrote seven of Broadway's most timeless musicals - most memorably Fiddler on the Roof [1964], She Loves Me [1963], the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Fiorello! [1959]. Other shows include The Apple Tree, The Body Beautiful, The Rothchilds, and

    aBockHarnick.jpgWith their humor and boundless musical invention, the shows won 18 Tonys and, in revivals, continue to capture theatergoers' imaginations.
    They came along when the traditions of Rodgers and Hammerstein were giving way to concept, rock, and mega musicals.

    Lambert had unprecedented access to
    Bock and Harnick. He draws from archival sources and anecdotes. Additionally, he interviewed collaborators. He explores Bock and Harnick's catalogue of lesser-known songs, including music for the 1964 New York World's Fair, and a made-for-TV musical. Lambert provides a look at the composers' beginnings in revues, on TV, in summer retreats of the 1950s; and Harnick's numerous contributions to Off Bway, in shows such as The Littlest Revue, Kaleidoscope, and Wet Paint.
    There's much detail on their work process, the dramatic structure of the musicals, and
    how they found favor with critics and audiences, and a learned analysis on the teams place in the history of the Bway musical. Finally, Lambert details their search for new collaborators after their partnership dissolved in 1970. Though the breakup was bitter and they never worked together again, a friendship was restored before Bock's death last month. 

     ~   ~   ~   ~

    This is a great time to remind that the ultimate show business book Patti LuPone: A Memoir [Crown Archetype; Hardcover, 336 pages; 100 photographs, including an eight-page four-color insert, Index; SRP $26; Kindle version, SRP $14], about backstage intrigue by one of its consummate stars In Bway's ultimate and most colorful star takes readers on a blistering journey through her mostly acclaimed career. 

    aLuPoneBkCover.jpgLuPone knows how to hold an audience's rapt attention and she makes an easy transitions from stage to page writing with wit, flamboyant energy, and theatrical flair. Sometimes, she's like a bull in a China shop or a bloodied boxer on the last breath. With the characteristic bluntness, passion, and self-depreciating humor you would expect from our musical theater treasure/diva, and assisted by veteran writer Digby Diehl, LuPone recounts her not always pleasant journey to stardom - and everything wasn't always coming up roses. 

    There were battles, professional and personal, some well-documented, some secret till now. LuPone isn't shy about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. She vividly expresses not only her innermost feelings but also her famous temperament. She doesn't hold back or leave anything out.  It's a "warts and all," "trials and tribulations" telling, and rarely is a halo hovering above her head. What nerve she has to quote even her worst reviews!

    It's hard to imagine the LuPone we've come toknow had insecurities, questioned her talent, and received bad reviews. Early success landed her a four-year stint on TV's Life Goes On, which wasn't always a happy experience because of problems with co-star Bill Smitrovich. It doesn't seem the rocky, pre-Bway run in The Baker's Wife, was a breeze. She came away despising co-star Topol and his replacement, Paul Sorvino.

    The c
    hronicling of her ascent to stardom in Evita and the backstage goings on during production on the West End Sunset Boulevard reads like a theatrical thriller. After being handpicked for the role of Norma and reaping untold acclaim, she was unceremoniously fired. It's a text book chapter on show biz loyalty, and Lloyd Webber's horrendous lack of public relations savvy. It cost him dearly; and LuPone made out swimmingly. She had the last laugh: becoming the first American to be honored with the Olivier Award. 

    Bi-Coastal Karen Ziemba

    Out west, back East, Karen Ziemba's been racking up the miles. After appearing as Kate Jerome in Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound in repertory at San Diego's Old Globe, she stuck around to portray Ouisa Kittredge in Six Degrees of Separation.


    aKaren.jpgShe says, "I've really been enjoying doing more plays, but I haven't forgotten the music."  In between touring her cabaret act and performing in concert, she's worked at the Long Wharf and Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company. Earlier this month, she entertained at the Kennedy Center Honors luncheon. Leaving D.C., she somehow found time to reflect on a memorable past holiday for Theatermania.com's Holiday Memories feature.


    December 29 and 30, at Long Wharf, Ziemba joins Roger Bart, Michael Ian Black, Rachel Dratch, and Joe Pantoliano for two performances each night of Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel's Celebrity Autobiography. Ziemba does additional C.A.s in Clearwater, FL, January 4-8 and January 11 in Sarasota, where a co-star will be none other than Jerry Springer. Then, it's out West, where on January 27 at S.F.'s 42nd Street Moon Theatre she appears with Curtains co-star Noah Racey in A John Kander Evening. Back East, in NYC, Ziemba appears January 31 at Birdland for The Songs of Andrew Gerle.


    Arresting Performances

    Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theatres, through January 2, is showcasing the U.S. prem of Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre's production of Edna O'Brien's Haunted. It marks the return to the NY stage of two-time Oscar nom Brenda Blethyn in an extraordinary performance as Mrs. Berry, a taken-for-granted wife who unbeknownst to her has been declared dead by her husband.

    aBBlethyn.jpgIn another standout turn, Niall Buggy Translations] is Mr. Berry. Beth Cooke plays the young woman he fastasizes being the new woman in his life. When wifey goes to work, hubby plays in quite innocent ways with Ms. Cooke, who he entices back for visits by saying his wife has passed and giving away her expensive wardrobe.  The play's rather strange and strangely crafted, but these two theater veterans know how to turn pages into great theater and aren't to be missed.

    Tickets are $60 [$42, members]. To purchase, visit the 59E59 box office, call Ticket Central, (212) 279-4200, or book online at www.59e59.org.  For more information on Brits Off Bway, visit www.britsoffbroadway.com.

     ~   ~   ~   ~ 

    aaArchie.jpgWe're always told there's nothing good or hot on broadcast TV, but have you checked out the hour at 10, specifically The Good Wife? It's quite a departure for CBS programming, and has scenes you only expect to see onscreen or on cable TV. In addition to the erotic triangle developing between leads Julianna Margulies, Josh  Charles, and Chris Noth, there's Christine Baranski in a non-comic role [she's just beginning to come out of the background to make a major strike]. However, the performance to treasure comes from exotically beautiful Archie Panjabi. If you saw her in Bend It Like Beckham and The Constant Gardner you know she has a magnetic screen presence, but nothing tops her mysterious Kalinda here. 

    Though the series is set in Chicago, interiors [and some exteriors] are shot here, so you have a Law & Order-type roster of NY actors, such as Alan Cumming, Mary Beth Peil, and Anika Noni Rose; and guest actors, such as Dylan Baker, Kate Burton, Kevin Conway, Joanna Gleason, Rebecca Luker, David Paymer, Denis O'Hare, Karen Olivo, Martha Plimpton, and, in a very rare sighting, Maryann Plunkett. One of Season 2's treats has been Michael J. Fox as a sneaky trial lawyer [he's coming back, too!]. Scott Porter, so excellent in the first season of Friday Night Lights, is also aboard as a shady investigator.

     ~   ~   ~   ~

    aNKidman.jpgMany outstanding performances have been hitting the screen lately to qualify for the end of year nominations race. It's been quite a brilliant overload: Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech; brave, daring Jim Carey and Ewan McGregor in the gay black comedy I Love You, Phillip Morris; there's Nicole Kidman's heartbreaking performance, often sans make-up even in tight closeups, in David Lindsay-Abaire's adaptation of his Rabbitt Hole, directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Casino Jack, the rollercoaster black comedy based on the scandal-plagued career of charismatic, manipulative, ultra religious lobbyist aaaHSteinfeld.jpgJack Abramoff and his schemes, didn't mesmerize critics but there's no denying Kevin Spacey's superlative perperformance. Audiences love a great antihero and Spacey has established a rep as one of the best  bad guys. Dancing diva Natalie Portmann is wild 'n wooly in the psycho ballet drama Black Swan [and how nice to see Barbara Hersehy, even if 99% of audiences dont' recognize her]; young Hailee Steinfeld, seeming to channel Mercedes MacCambridge, in a star-making role as feisty Mattie Ross and absolutely stealing the True Grit remake. This is not the classic we expected. It's talk, talk, talk with stretches of dullness and a one-note performance by Jeff Bridges as Rooster. However, whoever expected Matt Damon could be such an excellent comic foil? Cinema buffs may remember the soundtrack of the classic film noir that a major portion of the soundtrack repeats. 

    A Sound of Music Treasure Trove

    Describing My Favorite Things, a four-disc 45th Anniversary Sound of Music limited edition set [Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment; SRP $90], doesn't do it justice. The colorful gift box contains a Blu-ray [in 1080p Hi-Def and 7.1 audio] and standard DVD discs, and remastered soundtrack disc [Sony Masterworks]. However, what makes the package special is the 100-page "Favorite Things" scrapbook; the reproduction of the 1965 roadshow souvenir program; porcelain music box [that plays...guess what?]; and Musical Stages: Creating The Sound of Musica new interactive feature on the score, stage musical, and film/sound restoration; screen tests, and a Carol Burnett/Julie Andrews send-up of SOM. 

    aSOM.jpgWait! There's more: a Maria von Trapp interview and von Trapp Family interactive sing-a-long; a booklet of behind-the-scenes images, trivia and Salzburg, Austria location map and quiz; audio commentary with Andrews, Christopher Plummer and director Robert Wiseand; and for the first time, the full-length doc, Rodgers & Hammerstein: The Sound of American Music, hosted by Bway's Maria, Mary Martin.

    If you prefer a smaller package, the best-selling film soundtrack is newly remastered for CD [Sony Masterworks]. It Includes new liner notes, never-before-seen photos, and a bonus track of Glee's Lea Michele rendition of "My Favorite Things." The film, one of the most beloved films in movie history, won five Oscars, including Picture and Actress.

    How About Some Opera?

    Puccini's La Fanciulla del West or The Girl of the Golden West  returned to the Met to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opera's world prem, December10.  

    Performances tonight, January 3 and 8 will be broadcast on Met Opera Radio, SIRIUS 78 and XM 79. Elisabete Matos makes her Met debut as Minnie tonight; Carl Tanner, his as Dick Johnson/Ramerrez December 27.

    aaaaDVoigt.jpgDeborah Voigt and Marcello Giordani return to their roles for La Fanciulla's January 8's final performance, which telecasts to 1,500 cinemas via the Met's Live in HD series and can be heard on the Toll Brothers-Met Opera International Radio Network. It will be hosted by acclaimed soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, whose Tosca is upcoming at the Met. PBS' Great Performances presents the opera in May.

    Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, who never visited the U.S., based their libretto a little too closely on David Belasco's play of the same name. The lyrics often border the mundane, but Puccini's soaring score, one of his most beautiful, compensates. 

    On January 5 at 9 P.M. PBS Great Performances will present Otto Schenk's staging of Donizetti's comic masterpiece Don Pasquale, starring Anna Netrebko as Norina, John Del Carlo in the title role, and, making his Met debut, Matthew Polenzani as Ernesto. James Levine conducts. Celebrated mezzo-soprano Susan Graham hosts.

    ยท        Holiday Fun

    It's the season to be merry, to be surrounded by loved ones and friends. What better place to do that than being surrounded by joy and wonder of the home grown Big Apple Circus. Dance On!, through January 9, under the big top at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park marks 33 years of NY's original one-ring circus. And, yes, Grandma's back!


    There are artists from six nations and the good ole U.S.A., and there's no problem seeing them since no seat is more than 50 feet from the ring. American-born, including Grandma [a.k.a., Barry Lubin], there's Jenny Vidbel, a third-generation performer/animal trainer who manages to entrance with 12 showstopping white mini-horses and an awesome Arabian stallion.

    From China, the Hebei Wuqiao Acrobatic Troupe - disciplined in 2,000-year-old Han Dynasty traditions, perform juggling, aerial acrobats, hoop diving, and their signature monocycle "One Dream Lasso." Ethiopia's agile Girma Tshehai hilariously juggles and bounces balls off a multi-tiered synthesizer to create electronic rhythms and, as audiences cheer him on, keeps increases the speed. Russia's Regina Dobrovitskaya after a long absence returns this season, embarking on a romantic trip high above the ring on her "cloud swing."


    For showtimes and tickets [starting at $15], visit the box office, call (888) 541-3750, or log onto www.bigapplecircus.org


    Wishing you a joyous, blessed Christmas and an ab fab New Year filled with peace, good health, and prosperity!

    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

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