Even though Emily Blanchard of Chicago has been a member of the legendary high kicking Rockettes dancers for six years, she still feels like "a new face" considering the group's 85-year history.
Parent company MSG Entertainment is celebrating this year's special birthday with a new production of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes, which hasn't played Chicagoland since 2008.
For Blanchard, it means rather than having to pack up her beaded headdresses and plumed costumes to head on the road, she'll be spending the holidays right at home for this run, which opens tonight and plays until Dec. 30 at Akoo Theatre in Rosemont.
The new show not only stars Blanchard and her cookie-cutter dancing counterparts, but also new scenes, a selection of glamorous new costumes, dramatic lighting effects, and a 50-foot LED screen which Blanchard said enhances the show with breathtaking new imagery.
"The last time the Rockettes did the Christmas Spectacular show in Chicagoland, we were still using the traditional scenery backdrops," said Blanchard, one of just 150 women around the country who carry the honor of having the title of one of the performing "Rockettes."
"We are thrilled to return to Chicago at the Akoo Theatre at Rosemont with an all new edition of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular," said Don Simpson, executive vice president of productions, MSG Entertainment.
"With new technological enhancements and show-stopping performance elements, the 2012 production offers a truly immersive experience like nothing Chicago audiences have ever seen before. Returning audiences will be amazed by the transformation of the Christmas Spectacular, and new fans will not want to miss this show."
The Rockettes have a long-standing relationship with the Rosemont Theatre with the debut of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in 1997. This year marks the 11th season the Christmas Spectacular will perform at the Rosemont Theatre.
While in Chicago, the Rockettes also have become known as an embodiment of the spirit of giving and embracing the community by participating in many great local charitable initiatives including collecting coats and canned food for the needy, visiting children's hospitals and helping to raise awareness for worthy causes.
"We stay busy throughout the year with appearance for promotions and events," said Blanchard, who reminds that for any dancer to be considered for an audition for a Rockette, she must be between 5'6" and 5'10 1/2".
This year's production and the new 50-foot LED screen transports the audience to Times Square and Santa's Workshop with Santa and the Rockettes, using the new technology as a combination blend with the Christmas Spectacular's classic holiday numbers.
In addition to fan favorite scenes, including the high-energy, tap-infused number "The Twelve Days of Christmas," the Rockettes are debuting new numbers in 2012 to showcase their signature precision dance technique alongside challenging and dynamic new choreography.
In a brand new scene, "New York at Christmas," the Rockettes board a life size double-decker tour bus, taking audiences on a guided tour through the streets of New York City. The scene includes show-stopping choreography performed across the landscape of iconic New York City landmarks and culminates in the "crossroads of the world," Times Square.
Santa Claus takes center stage in two magical new scenes: "Magic is There," with Santa taking two young brothers on a journey to the North Pole, and "Here Comes Santa Claus," a number that reveals how Santa can be in multiple places at once.
Beloved numbers such as "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," which continues to set the standard as the signature Rockettes number for precision performance, and "The Living Nativity," both of which have been performed since the Christmas Spectacular’s inception, still remain a vital part of the show's core, although Blanchard said live animals such as a donkey, camels and sheep are no longer part of the recreation of the manger scene.
"Even though we don't have the live animals any more, what we've added for the new grand finale makes up for it," Blanchard said.
The new Rockettes finale features dazzling new costumes and choreography during the number "Let Christmas Shine," as the dancers wear costumes featuring more than 3,000 crystals.
Blanchard said she loves the legacy and tradition associated with being a Rockette.
"No matter where we perform, we always get a visit backstage from Rockettes from previous decades who are in the audience to see the show," Blanchard said.
"And no matter what age, they always like to show us they can still do the high kicks."
Blanchard said today's costumes and towering head adornments are much lighter than what the Rockettes of yesteryear balanced.
"We do a lot more simple headbands with feathers, or such as with our reindeer musical number, we wear derby hats with antlers," said Blanchard, who admits there are occasional mishaps, like a flying shoe or unglued eyelashes, but "the show goes on."
As for Blanchard's holiday gift, she received it early from her family since it was a nod to Rockettes' pop culture.
"I now have this great retro advertisement hanging up for the Rockettes and L'eggs pantyhose," said Blanchard, who giggles when she hears someone mention Christmas "run."