The Rockettes in rehearsal. Photo Courtesy MSG Entertainment.
Last spring, Rockettes fans eagerly awaited the troupe's new show Heart and Lights, which was set to expand the group into the realm of contemporary dance. But days before opening night, Madison Square Garden Entertainment abruptly cancelled the production, deeming it not yet fit for the stage. Audiences expected to see a polished version in spring 2015. Instead, Radio City has transformed it into a new show called The New York Spring Spectacular. And to help ensure success this time around, it has hired an artistic staff of theater bigwigs: Warren Carlyle, of After Midnight, is director/choreographer and Diane Paulus (Pippin) and Randy Weiner (Sleep No More) are co-creative directors. Previews begin March 12, with a March 26–May 3 run.
Some of the ideas from last year's Heart and Lights have been reworked for the show. New York City will still be the central theme, and special effects like the three-story Statue of Liberty puppet and the choreographed LED backdrop will remain. But the storyline has changed, with a new script by playwright Joshua Harmon. The dance numbers will celebrate one iconic New York landmark after another, as an old-fashioned tour guide leads his new techie boss through the city in an effort to save his job. “It's a complete reimagining," says Carlyle. “We're using some of the same scenic elements and technology from last year, but as far as I'm concerned, it's a completely new show."
Adding to the list of big names, Mia Michaels has choreographed a scene. “To open the show with a number by Mia Michaels just says, 'All bets are off,' " says Carlyle. “It says, 'Look out, here we go, this is not going to be a traditional Rockettes show.' " Laura Benanti, a Broadway actress and cast member of ABC's “Nashville," will star alongside Derek Hough, and Whoopi Goldberg will narrate, lending her voice to the Statue of Liberty. Noticeably absent is Linda Haberman, who had been director/choreographer of the Rockettes since 2006 but left after Heart and Lights' cancellation.
Beyond Michaels' contemporary dance, audiences can expect a variety of choreography that expands the Rockettes' image, from tap to robust jazz. A couple scenes have been preserved and revised from last year's show, including the Fosse-inspired “Electricity," a dance that was widely promoted leading up to Heart and Lights' scheduled opening. But by and large, this is Carlyle's creation. “I tried to really challenge the dancers," he says. “They put on their knee pads, and their shoulder pads, and their elbow pads—and they went for it."