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'New York Spring Spectacular' brings family-friendly fun to Radio City

Derek Hough puts his best foot forward with

Derek Hough puts his best foot forward with the Rockettes in the Radio City New York Spring Spectacular. Photo Credit: MSG Entertainment

There's only one show this season that is "Spectacular" enough to bring together the likes of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Whoopi Goldberg, Henrik Lundqvist, Martha Stewart and Donald Trump.

The "New York Spring Spectacular" -- now in previews and opening on March 26 at Radio City Music Hall -- is an ambitious undertaking that pulls in massive puppets, a slew of guest stars, a couple Tony winners, intricate technical effects and the Rockettes. The show even opens with a musical number set to the song "Welcome to New York" by New York City Global Welcome Ambassador Taylor Swift.

"It's a lot of layers," says director and choreographer Warren Carlyle, a Tony and Drama Desk award-winner. "On Broadway, they have two layers, and here at Radio City, we have 15 layers. It's just a lot of things and all of it so creative and so imaginative.

"It's really, really on a scale I've never worked on before."

Technically, the family-friendly production, coproduced by MSG Entertainment and Weinstein Live Entertainment, is a marvel. There is a 3-D LED wall allowing for visual effects, a kite that can fly over the audience and the aforementioned puppets. The Statue of Liberty puppet, voiced by Goldberg, clocks in at 26-feet tall and weighs in at 1,760 pounds. Lady Liberty is operated using motors -- there are 20 just in her face -- and puppeteers who help bring her to life.

"It's like directing people," Carlyle says. "It's the same thing because it's about where they look, telling a story. It's about making sure the focus is in the right place. It's about making sure you believe what they're saying. The eyes and the eye line are important, and we have some really skilled puppeteers in the show. ... That's how I spent my month of November, doing all the puppet work."

The show will take viewers on a tour of New York City, re-created on the Radio City stage. Tony-winning actress Laura Benanti plays Jenna, a billionaire CEO whose latest acquisition is a New York City tour company, which she wants to change into giving virtual tours of the Big Apple. Longtime tour guide Bernie (Lenny Wolpe) could lose his job, but angel Jack (Emmy-winner Derek Hough of "Dancing With the Stars") has made it his mission to help Bernie keep his job.

"I play a character who's like a technology wizard who wants to bring New York City to the world virtually and she sort of loses sight of the fact that we have to have a human connection with each other," says Benanti, who also stars on ABC's "Nashville." "So I thought, what a wonderful opportunity to say to 4,000 children per show, it's time to put your phones down. We need them sometimes and it's great to have them, but we can't always be on devices. We have to look each other in the eye; we have to feel what it feels like to have human interaction."

While offering praise for his stars -- "I love them" -- Carlyle says getting to work with the Rockettes was "always a bucket list kind of thing for me."

"It's really just been special for me to spend time with them," he says. "It's been special to choreograph them, they really can do anything and everything. ... It's been a joy as a choreographer not to be limited in anything. I can do anything because they can do anything. They're really, really special. I've fallen in love with each and every one of them."

Likewise, Benanti had much praise for the Radio City icons.

"They are superstars," she says. "These women are superheroes, they're athletes, they're artists. They have an incredible work ethic, they have zero sense of entitlement, they're so beautiful, they're so strong, they're so smart and fun and I'm excited for people to see them in this brand-new light. It really takes what they already do so magnificently and brings it to another level."

The Dolan family owns a controlling interest in MSG. The family also owns a controlling interest in Cablevision, which owns amNewYork.


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