Rockettes get a leg up on Christmas in Cobb


“Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes”

Grade: B+

Through Nov. 23. $27-$125. Cobb Energy Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta.,

Bottom line: Kicky when not overly sweet.

For those still furtively working their way through Halloween candy stashes, "Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes" may come as a bit of a jolt.

Metro Atlanta’s fall leaves haven’t quite hit peak color yet, but inside Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, where the Rockettes opened a marathon 27-show run Thursday night, it’s beginning to look A LOT like Christmas.

Not that anyone in attendance at the opening seemed to mind the highly sweet serving of early holiday cheer — the 18 portly dancing Santas, the Rockettes kicking it up in antler-topped reindeer costumes, the “Nutcracker” as performed by teddy bears …

By the time Atlantans are tucking into turkey and dressing, this touring company will be setting up in sunny Florida for West Palm Beach and Tampa runs. So if it doesn’t throw off your circadian rhythm too terribly, there’s no moment quite like the present for Rockettes-styled Christmas spirit.

So what’s inside this big, brightly wrapped pre-Thanksgiving present?

Well, there is much that’s new since the precision-dance troupe last played Atlanta, at the Fox Theatre in 2009. But if you know anything about this circa 1925 American showbiz institution, you have a sense of what to expect. The “eye-high” leg kicks by dancers with glorious gams stay basically the same; it’s mainly the embellishments around the crackerjack choreography that change.

The biggest addition for the 2013 tour is a 50-foot-wide LED backdrop screen that lends the staging a sense of 3-D depth, especially in the best of five new numbers, “New York at Christmas.” The 18 dancers board a double-decker bus for a high-spirited Manhattan tour, hitting favorites from Central Park to Times Square. The clever stagecraft and always-in-motion performers deliver a believable sense that you’re touring the Big Apple.

Another enjoyably kicky new number is “Here Comes Santa Claus,” wherein one St. Nick quickly multiplies into a stage overflowing with the jolly dancing fellows, shedding light on how he manages to be everywhere at once on Christmas Eve.

Santa also stars in the only weak link among the additions, “Magic Is There,” in which he hauls two boys (the older one especially dubious about the bearded wonder’s credibility) to the North Pole. A dance by rag dolls in Santa’s toy factory is a blast, but it can’t overcome the number’s saccharine storyline.

Vanilla is a favorite flavoring around the holidays, of course, but this Rockettes edition at times uses a ladle when a tablespoon would do.

Some classics return among the 12 “scenes,” as well, including “The Parade of Wooden Soldiers” (the way the dancers fall down like slo-mo dominoes remains one of the show’s most inspired bits) and “The Living Nativity” (feels like an ancient painting come to life).

With all that, “Spectacular” manages a crisp running time of under an hour and 45 minutes (even with an intermission).

My 12-year-old opening-night accomplice — he of the ever-shortening, preteen attention span — surprised me when the final curtain dropped by wishing that the show had gone longer. I thought it was just about right.