The coronavirus has put coal in our stocking, with the annual Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes being canceled for the first time in 87 years.
“We regret that the 2020 production of the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes presented by Chase has been canceled due to continued uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Radio City Music Hall owner MSG Entertainment said in a statement Tuesday that also appeared on the Rockettes’ official website. The season had been scheduled to run from Nov. 6 to Jan. 3.
“We are disappointed for everyone involved with the show, as well as for the many fans who make the Christmas Spectacular a cherished part of their holiday tradition,” the statement continued. “We look forward to welcoming audiences back for the 2021 production, which is on sale now. All tickets for the 2020 production will be automatically refunded at the point of purchase.”
The decision appeared to have come quickly, with the Rockettes’ social media only on Monday having continued to express hope for the show. “We’re celebrating Christmas in August!” the troupe wrote on Twitter and Instagram, alongside a rehearsal video captioned, “New York at Christmas kickline.”
The Christmas show, with its precision-line dancers and such traditions as “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and the “Living Nativity,” both performed since the stage act’s inception debuted on Dec. 21, 1933. This came a year after Radio City Music Hall itself opened on Dec. 27, 1932, with a troupe then dubbed the Roxyettes, who performed to the song “With a Feather in Your Cap.”
They soon became the Rockettes, but not before the first, 30-minute Christmas show in 1933. “The Roxyettes, who always promenade their collective charm in perfect unison, were never more effective than they are as Christmas tree ornaments,” wrote The New York Times reviewer identified only by the initials B.R.C., in an addendum to critic Mordaunt Hall’s review of the accompanying movie and cartoon short. The Christmas show included a Nativity scene and “a jubilant ballet in a toy shop,” the unnamed writer said, recommending the show as “not merely for adults, but for the most adultly critical of children.”
The Christmas Spectacular even continued through World War II, with the Rockettes dressed as ration coupons for at least one number. The troupe itself volunteered for United Service Organizations (USO) shows to entertain the military, and with Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a War Bond Rally at Madison Square Garden.
Open auditions for the 2020 Christmas Spectacular that were scheduled to have taken place in April were postponed and ultimately canceled due to the pandemic.