Besides making a lot of people feel their age — and wonder why Dick Clark doesn't seem to be feeling his —American Bandstand's 50th…A Celebration! provided a glimpse of how far rock-and-roll lighting for television has come since the 1950s. The show, which aired May 3 on ABC and featured performances by Michael Jackson, Cher, Stevie Wonder, Kiss, Alanis Morrisette, and others, was lit by Lee Rose of Design Partners, Inc., using a package of more than 250 Vari*Lite ® automated fixtures. Edited down from three days of taping at Pasadena Civic Center, American Bandstand's golden anniversary celebration didn't lack for color, movement, and, when appropriate, says Rose, a bit of flash and trash.

Bruce Ryan's dome-like set was composed largely of rear-projection screens, with an oval-shaped overhead truss everyone called the beetle, “because it looked like an upside-down beetle, with curves coming down like wings,” says Rose. “We had to put everything that was going to backlight the dome on pipes and get them up before we could even bring the dome in.” Fitting the pipes and the lights mounted on the dome into the space, along with the rear followspot bridge, not to mention all the cables, and making the mechanics more or less invisible, was a “3D Chinese puzzle” that Mark Kohorn of Kish Rigging and assistant LD Kelly Waldman helped Rose solve.

The designer called on Vari-Lite Production Services as supplier for the whole show for several reasons. “Vari-Lite had done the last few seasons of American Bandstand in the late 80s, the ones I worked on, and they had also done the 40th-anniversary show,” says Rose. “So I was leaning towards using them. And then I saw those acres of RP screens. For me, when you have very short throw distances, nothing projects even color better than the radial color system of a VL5. I started laying out how many backlights were needed per section of RP screen, and got up to a three-digit number real quick. Once you're going to use 100 VL5s, you might as well get all the shit from Vari-Lite.”

In addition to a smattering of VL2402s and VL2416s, and conventional units like Strong Super Troupers and PAR-64 bars out front, other instruments supplied by VLPS included 80 VL6C and 48 VL7 spots, with a variety of custom gobos. “When I laid it out and added up the numbers, 50 or 60% of my hard-edged lights were behind the dome,” says Rose. “But for Kiss and some of the other acts where we weren't going to do projection, it seemed kind of pointless to have that much equipment behind the dome. So that's why we ended up doing a lot of front-projection of gobos. That way, we could use the fixtures for the traditional rock-and-roll numbers, and when we wanted to do gobos, we certainly had plenty of power out there.”

Harry Sangmeister, the Virtuoso programmer whose contribution Rose says is more like that of a lighting director, came up with the “cycle-swirl” gobo for the disco segment, which included numbers by KC and the Sunshine Band, A Taste of Honey, and the Village People. This was the program's biggest demonstration of flash and trash, with a Saturday Night Fever-style dance floor, color chases on the RP screens, and VLM moving mirrors and police lights during “YMCA.” Kiss brought along their trademark sign, made up of 128 channels worth of MR-16s, but Michael Jackson was the only performer who brought in his own LD (Justin Collie) and setup (including strobe lights with color changers, a Lightning Strikes unit, and a 10kW xenon).

In the end, says Rose, “We were able to tie the disco segments together, give Michael what he wanted, do the big rock number for Kiss, and more of a classic performance number for Alanis Morrisette,” who was backed by moving cloud projections. As for the master of ceremonies, Dick Clark positioned himself stage right in front of an RP screen. “They made up American Bandstand 50th Anniversary gobos to go behind him, and we put VL7s in there,” says the LD. “Harry showed me a trick with those, that when you dim them down to 10 or 15%, and rotate the lens, you get this almost watery effect pattern”: the perfect backdrop for eternal youth.