Radio City Music Hall promised that its ``Magnificent Christmas Spectacular'' would be presented in a new version this year. Among the heralded novelties of the extravaganza were ``elaborate new production numbers, dazzling special effects, opulent costumes, fresh staging, specially commissioned music, surprise performers, plus an extra helping of the Rockettes in a new high-kicking routine.'' If that's quite a mouthful, the show itself is quite an eyeful and an earful, with something to delight everyone in the family audience. The Music Hall has been as good as its word.
And first a word about some of the new. Tchaikovsky's ``Nutcracker Suite'' has inspired the Music Hall's choreographers to create ``a dream of dancing bears.'' An enchanting little ballerina trips the light balletic with an ensemble of 32 three-dimensionally costumed polar bears, pandas, Arabian bears, and musical and baby-doll bears in assorted sizes. The ballet drew squeals of delight from small bear lovers in the audience.
Besides the entire cast and orchestra, ``It's Christmas in New York'' features such special effects as an emerging forestage rink on which skating dancers Laurie and Greg Welch glide and twirl. ``They Can't Start Christmas Without Us'' visits the North Pole workshop of Santa Claus and his elves: Jiggle, Wiggle, Giggle, Squiggle, and Bruce (played by nimble midgets). The wooden soldiers for whom they are frantically searching turn out to be the 36 Rockettes, whose close-order drill to the strains of Vict or Herbert climaxes with their suspenseful, all-fall-down finale. Later on in the show, the Rockettes demonstrate their high kicks aboard a revolving-stage carousel.
The Music Hall doesn't neglect its commitment to the traditional. Two sequences honor the obligation with projected montages -- comical for ``The Twelve Days of Christmas,'' sentimental for ``The Night Before Christmas.'' In its condensed salute to Charles Dickens and ``A Christmas Carol,'' a reformed Scrooge surprises the Cratchit family. The spectacular concludes, of course, with ``The Living Nativity,'' the super-cr`eche that assembles a venerating procession of carolers, wise men, shepherds, two cam els, two donkeys, and several sheep.
The opening performance of this year's nine-scene, 90-minute spectacular didn't go off without a hitch. While the momentary slip-ups may have had showman Robert F. Jani wringing his hands, they provided an enlightening reminder of the indispensable host of backstage crafts people and technicians without whom ``The Magnificent Christmas Spectacular'' wouldn't be the spectacle it is.
The Christmas show continues at the Music Hall until Jan. 8.