For our recent trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Spectacular, we did not have the seats in one of the first rows as we once had. Instead, we sat quite a way back and slightly off to the side, but we could see fine. We had not selected where we sat. Part of the reason we went is that I got discount tickets through TDF, the source I use for most of my New York City playgoing. I have to take whatever they give me, and I can only pick up the tickets shortly before showtime. I don’t know where I will sit when I use TDF until I walk into the theater. Our seats were highly acceptable.

The cost for tickets in New York, however, often shocks. I had spent $147 for the three admissions, but these were discounted. When we got home, I looked to see what full price was for the next day’s performance at the same time–$160. The rack rate for seats we had had in olden days? $450!! On the evening we went, there was a family of four to my right. A family of six in the row in front of us. Even with discounted tickets, it is amazing that so many people can afford or are willing to pay the price. At full price, I can’t imagine it. And many of these people are from the suburbs. They have the expense of getting to the City, and no doubt many are going out to dinner afterwards. Even so, 6,000 seats for a 5 P.M. performance on a rain-soaked Monday were filled.

Given the ticket prices, I hope the performers are well paid. They work hard, almost all nearly nonstop, during the ninety-minute show. They have to be exhausted after a performance. And there are many performances. Some days have five shows; others four; and the remainder three. The Christmas Spectacular will be performed twenty-nine times this week. I have no idea what the average ticket price is after discounts and group sales, but even if it is as low as $60, at 6,000 seats, the box office is raking in over $10 million a week (and if the average ticket is closer to face value, the take is double or triple that.) While I would not be surprised that it is otherwise, I hope those hard-working, talented singers and dancers get a sizeable portion of that money. (At Yankee games, I look around and wonder how any but a well-to-do family can go to the games, but at least I know there that the performers are getting excellent compensation.)

We could see the show without straining, and as old devotees of the Christmas Spectacular, we noted changes from back in the day. Of course, there was more high tech—lasers, light show effects, and some 3-D projections. I can’t recount what else was excised, but the abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol was gone. (No big loss.) There was still a skating segment where a rink appears on stage (I always wondered if it was real ice or some other surface that can be skated on), but the segment seemed shorter than before.

A new set piece was added where a teenage boy and his younger brother seek a gift for their sister. The teenager is of the cynical persuasion, and this was the I-don’t-believe-in-Christmas-or-Santa-but-something-will-happen-that-will-give-me-belief-again portion. It did offer the opportunity for many, many Santas, real and projected, to dance. I thought it had some appeal, but the NBP thought it was “creepy.” Some in the audience laughed when the “teenager” said that he was fifteen. I guess these audience members did not think someone of that age should not look as if he might shave twice a day.

When I want that I-don’t-believe-etc. stuff, I turn to something much better, the movie that I have watched more often than any other movie, the old Miracle on 34th Street. This was an extended tradition for me. It was not Christmas season until I saw the movie, and I would search TV listings religiously until I could find a time to watch it, and I usually watched it two or three times in a season. I may have seen this film fifty times. I know many of the lines. Even so, I cry regularly when that little Dutch girl is on Santa’s knee. (Hey, don’t you doubt my testosterone! A real man can be moved by a soppy movie. Haven’t you ever been like me and teared up at The Parent Trap?) The I-believe moment of finding the cane in the otherwise empty room is much better than anything on the Radio City Music Hall stage. (I cared about Miracle enough that I wrote my only letter to a TV station when its showing of the regrettably colorized version dropped a scene, a crucial scene in my opinion, of the Miracle on 34th Street.)

          [Digression. Of course, there are a lot of holiday movies, but I was surprised when Die Hard made lists of top Christmas movies. Although I did not think of it as a Christmas movie (it does take place during an office Christmas party), I watched it when I saw it playing on one those obscure cable channels on Christmas night. Probing my memory, I could not remember having seen it since I saw it in its initial release thirty years earlier, and I started to watch even though the movie was into its last hour. I was enjoying it again, finding that the impossible physical heroics were outweighed by the Bruce Willis banter, but the ending, unfortunately, brought back more disturbing memories other than of my first viewing. Bodies come out of the skyscraper; the bad guys blow off the roof of the building, and for a few moments, I had remembered being on the street thirteen years after the movie’s release. It was September 11, 2001, and I was watching the World Trade Towers from a few blocks away. I couldn’t be overly fond of Die Hard for bringing back those memories and have not watched it again.]

          [Further digression but it is still about Die Hard. David Foster Wallace in his 1995 essay David Lynch Keeps His Head writes about the moral manipulation of film directors and cites movies “where we are so relentlessly set up to approve the villains’ bloody punishment in the climax that we might as well be wearing togas. (The formulaic inexorability of these villains’ defeat does give the climaxes an oddly soothing, ritualistic quality, and it makes the villains martyrs in a way, sacrifices to our desire for black-and-white morality and comfortable judgment. . . . I think it was during the original Die Hard that I first rooted consciously for the villain.)”]

(concluded December 23)

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