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Kickin’ it with the Rockettes

Jules Becker

To Amy Biddle Owens, being a Rockette is “a dream come true.”

A student of dance since the age of 3, the 24-year-old Rockette recently confessed, “I always watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade … I think a lot of young dancers grew up watching the Rockettes.”

Now she is part of the 18-dancer line of Rockettes headlining the Citi Center month-long visit of the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” (through Dec. 28 at the Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St., Boston).

 Owens studied jazz, tap and ballet in her native Decatur, Ind. She praised the diversity-friendly auditions. Her extensive training helped her own audition for the Rockettes considerably. Her 5 foot 10 inch frame worked as well, with Rockettes ranging from 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 10 inches. Still, the selection process was lengthy — and strenuous. “It’s a two-day process,” she said. “It’s basically like taking a Rockettes master class.”

Once she was picked, her height gave her prominence in ensemble sequences,  “I’m right in the middle of the line,” she noted.

In fact, the entire 18-dancer  line is being given more prominence in the all new 2011 edition of the spectacular. A new Rockettes finale entitled “Let Christmas Shine” honors the stars of the annual Radio City Music Hall winter tradition and adorns them in bespangled costumes (each one featuring more than 3,000 crystals).

There are also two new Santa Clause scenes — “Magic Is There” and “Here Comes Santa Clause.” Yet the biggest addition to the show is “New York at Christmas,” with the Rockettes aboard a lifelike double-decker bus in a tour of New York city streets and dancing on arrival at a stage representation of Times Square.

Owens has particularly enjoyed the challenges of “New York at Christmas.”  “We take the audience for a tour of New York,” she said. “We pass several of the big sites (for example the Empire State Building). We hang out of the windows of the bus. There’s a lot of arm choreography (for this scene).”

Owens admitted that the New York scene — especially  “just being able to hit all of the sites” is her favorite part of the show.

 New Rockettes fans and “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” buffs are likely to call the exquisite 2011 staging a favorite holiday entertainment. Relying more on its true stars-the Rockettes themselves, the current edition — credit associate director and choreographer Julie Branam — calls on the legendary line to perform even more of their trademark high kicks and show-stopping arm and leg synchronized moves.  

 The now classic “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” — choreographed originally by Linda Haberman — remains as arresting as ever, with the precision fall troop of Rockettes as the toy cannon hits them.

A special nod goes to co-designers Gregg Barnes and Pete Menefee for the dazzling form-fitting Rockette outfits of “Let Christmas Shine” and the handsome white winter wear the line dons for the standout “New York at Christmas.”

 “New York at Christmas” looks to become as much of a staple as “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” Here the Rockettes demonstrate their fabled synchronization with arm and upper body movement as a full-size stage double-decker  bus makes the rounds in Manhattan.

David Agress’ sharp neon lighting for the arrival at Times Square complements the scene’s terrific evocation of Central Park. A very big thumbs up for the presence of a 50-foot LED screen that helps make this eye-catching first act closer the next best thing to being in the Big Apple in the wintertime.

 Brent Bateman is properly hearty as Santa. The ensemble vocalists have the right energy for the upbeat “Let Christmas Shine,” though jazz and live musical accompaniment should join the mix for 2012. More than ever, though, the annual Radio City visit and the Rockettes themselves are truly spectacular.