Magazine article The New Yorker

BIG WINNER; LOAVES AND FISHES Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

BIG WINNER; LOAVES AND FISHES Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

Thanksgiving passes--we fatten up. Christmas-in-the-City officially begins. The holiday parties are under way, so there's your eggnog, your winter spirits. But what of the spiritual element?

Radio City's got it. The Christmas Spectacular, that perennial revue, has been revamped in recent years. Santa not only rides in an animated 3-D sleigh but checks his e-mail. Al Roker, appearing in a video montage with the usual array of local weathermen, looks positively slender--the result of gastric-bypass surgery. But, midway through the second act, there's still that whiff of live camel, foreshadowing the dramatic reproduction of ancient Bethlehem. The Living Nativity scene, a theatrical tradition introduced eight centuries ago, remains unchanged as the show's slightly incongruous finale.

"From the Scriptures of Isaiah comes this interpretation of the greatest of stories," a voice booms. And then up on the stage, where just moments earlier the Rockettes had been flashing their legs, there appears an elaborate creche. Last week, during a matinee, this was the cue for young children to get restless, and for tourists to activate their cameras. And, perhaps, for a tired New Yorker, mesmerized by the strobelike effect of all those flashes, to daydream.

Soon a folk poem, known as "One Solitary Life," was being solemnly read aloud. (Radio City attributes its authorship to no one, but the words were originally composed by Dr. James Allan Francis, a Baptist minister, in 1926.) "He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman," it begins. "He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. . . . He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. . . . His friends deserted Him."

The recitation is supposed to be an uplifting part of the program in which, as the show's executive producer, John Bonanni, said the other day, "you takea moment and look at one another and acknowledge the good in each other." But the daydreamer might imagine an extended sequence of negations: "He never had a date. He rarely got out of bed, except to eat. He ended up fat, on reality television. …

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