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New York's finest Christmas show

I contemplated — for about 12 seconds — whether I should spend the money.

It was 2001, and I was in New York City, covering several Central Kentucky kids made good, and I was contemplating whether to go to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.

I did, of course.

The Spectacular is as much a quintessential part of Christmas in New York as the tree at Rockefeller Center or the holiday window displays at Macy's on Herald Square.

It's Christmastime in the City.

Now, the City is coming to Lexington.

On Thursday, the arena tour of the Radio City show comes to Rupp Arena, complete with the Rockettes, for two performances. This is the first time the show has come to Lexington.

"It's certainly part of a whole New York excursion, but there are plenty of people who don't have that opportunity," says Jeff Capitola, vice president of touring productions for Madison Square Garden Entertainment.

The Spectacular started touring in 1994 with productions at tourist destinations including Branson, Mo., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. Then productions started coming to major population centers, including Atlanta and Detroit. Those cities had theaters that could hold the show, which lives up to its spectacular name, and the populations to sustain multiweek runs.

Capitola says the Spectacular's 75th-anniversary production in 2007 sparked the idea of a tour that could do one-night shows across the country.

Specifically, Capitola says, a 25- by 65-foot LED screen enabled the company to build a production to arena scale. Radio City Music Hall is a traditional theater — albeit a huge one — and venues where the Spectacular had previously played were theaters, too.

"An arena would have different kinds of parameters than a regular road venue would have in terms of theaters," Capitola says. "It was sort of a blank slate, in terms of being able to take this creative show we are so proud of and has done so well with audiences, and bring it out all across America."

Audiences will see virtually the same show as the one in New York, with a few variations. Technical logistics made presenting the 3-D film of Santa Claus swooping through Manhattan, which opens the New York show, impossible in arenas, and humane logistics put the kibosh on the live Nativity, with its camels and donkeys, toward the end of the show.

Capitola says there were long discussions about "what this 31-city aggressive itinerary would do in terms of the animals, and everyone concluded at the end of the day that as much as we hated not to have them, we felt the Nativity was just as beautiful and just as strong without them, and that was better for the animals."

That kind of touring also can be hard on humans, particularly Rockettes expected to do a lot of high kicking in as many as three shows a day.

Once they arrive in town, Capitola says, the Rockettes go to a comfortable hotel and a gym.

"They are always the prime draw," he says of the dancers. "They are a New York City and an American institution, and that's what makes people come to see the show."

When audiences get to the show, there is a lot for them to see: Rockette outfits such as the crystal costumes worn while the women enter on a lighted staircase; the classic wooden soldiers routine; and North Pole and New York sequences.

Capitola says he's been getting used to arena terminology, including measuring productions in terms of "trucks."

"This show is on 22 trucks, which puts it up there with U2, Madonna and the Rolling Stones," he says. "It's as big as the largest rock tours out there."

And it will continue.

Now that the tour has worked out the kinks and is pleasing audiences across the country, Capitola says, it will go on a rotating schedule of Midwestern, Eastern and Western U.S. tours "so we come through every three years."

So, if you're wondering whether to go this year, keep in mind that you'll have to wait three years for your next chance.

But at least you don't have to wait for a trip to New York.

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