The world-famous Radio City Rockettes are visiting Detroit”s Fox Theatre for their fifth season of “The Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” The 2001 edition of the show will play through Dec. 29.

Paul Wong
The Rockettes get into the spirit of Christmas as playful Santas and smiling toy soldiers.<br><br>Courtesy of Olympia Entertainment

For more than three quarters of a century, the Radio City Rockettes, the world”s most well-known precision dance troupe, have been a legendary force in entertainment and a holiday tradition for many people. “So many families have taken on the show as a traditional part of their holiday celebration,” said Krystle Richeson, a Rockette from Farmington Hills. The Rockettes” starring role in “The Radio City Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City Music Hall and in other cities across the United States is watched by more people in one year than all other live shows in America more than 2.1 million people annually. This holiday season, the Rockettes will perform in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland and Nashville, as well as Detroit.

This year the Rockettes will celebrate 75 years of high kicks and precision dance. In fact, two scenes in the show are performed with the same choreography as they were when the show began. “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” a precision military marching routine, has been performed in Radio City”s holiday show each year since 1933. “The Living Nativity” upholds a tradition begun by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 for the people of Greccio, Italy and has also been a revered part of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular for 75 years.

The look of the Detroit show has been customized to match the opulence of the Fox Theatre. More than 10,000 light bulbs and sparkles have been added to the scenery. Props and scenery for eight sets were custom constructed and hand-painted with elements coming from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland and Washington, D.C. Ten trailer trucks were needed to deliver everything to the Fox Theatre. The Rockettes also have seven different costume changes during the show.

The concept of the precision dance line is to achieve absolute uniformity. The audience sees the 20 Rockettes perform intricate routines, but always moving as if one dancer. Everything the dancer”s height, the costumes and steps are meant to look completely identical. “We get a note telling us if our fingers are even an inch out of place,” said Richeson. “We work to be totally uniform.”

The illusion of uniform height is maintained by putting the tallest dancers in the center and gradually decreasing the height with the shortest women at either end. The Rockettes have stayed with the tradition of precision dance over the last 75 years, with some variation in style.

“As new dance styles and trends evolve, changes in our choreography come out responding to the new styles,” Richeson said. “That”s what keeps people coming back to watch us every year.”

Along with the Rockettes, the cast includes five sheep, three camels, two donkeys and one dog. The sheep, camel and donkeys take part in “The Living Nativity,” which truly brings the scene to life. Other scenes include “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Santa”s Gonna Rock “N” Roll,” “The Nutcracker: A Little Girl”s Dream,” “Santa”s Candy Castle,” “Santa”s Workshop,” “Carol of the Bells” and “One Solitary Life.” Another piece, “Christmas in New York,” features ice skating performed on an artificial ice rink, which is built on a moveable platform.

The Rockettes play an integral role in many Radio City theatrical productions, special events and television productions. Each year the Rockettes appear in the nationally televised Macy”s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the locally televised America”s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For several years, they”ve opened the “Daytime Emmy Awards,” broadcasted live from Radio City Music Hall and have appeared on “Late Night with Conan O”Brien” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” The Rockettes also performed the Grand Finale of the Presidential Inaugural Celebration earlier this year.

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