Upstairs, 1940s and 50s nightlife is revived, with plaster palm trees, Copa girls, and salsa/merengue music setting the scene. Downstairs has a more current throbbing disco sound, and a look highly dependent on the gyrations of a Clay Paky Astroscan centerpiece. But both floors of the new Copacabana nightclub on West 34th Street and 11th Avenue are designed to give customers a sleek, classy club experience — something more akin to the old, renowned Copa on East 60th Street than its more recent 57th Street manifestation. Maybe you won't see Tony Bennett or Martin and Lewis perform there but, martini in hand, you can at least close your eyes and imagine it.

Hired to do entertainment lighting for the space, designer Charles Fazzino soon found his task expanding. “The Copacabana is a nightclub three nights a week: Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays,” says Fazzino, whose company, Axcent Lighting and Sound of Rockland County, also designs and installs sound, video security, and satellite TV systems. “The rest of the time, it's a heavy-duty catering facility. So they needed two lighting systems, for entertainment and catering.” Another company had been hired to light the table areas of the club, but the management was dissatisfied with its work. So Fazzino took on lighting for the whole space. “The accent was on versatility, and that's what I gave them,” he says.

He did so partly by building in capability for outside lighting systems. The Versatruss ladder trusses over the upstairs room are equipped with custom-fit Altman stage-pin connector strips which hook up to 200A three-phase matrix and plug panels. “Each wire in that panel corresponds to a number on top of the truss, just like a Broadway stage,” says Fazzino. “There are trusses A, B, C, D, and so forth, and then all of the numbers are on top of each plug box. The odd numbers are the club's, and the evens are for outside lighting companies. The previous club was not equipped to handle outside lighting companies, which would result in exposed cable runs and clutter. To avoid that, this time we were going to do it right.”

In addition, High End Systems Trackspots® around the room offer flexibility of focus, color, and pattern, and Altman Micro Ellipse spots over each table can be fitted with theme gobos, such as hearts for Valentine's Day or corporate logos for private parties. Fazzino made a number of adjustments to the original designer's specs for these fixtures. “All of the track lights had white, narrow bulbs in them, and they were getting absolutely no light out of them,” he says. “I put in wide floods, and custom-made pink glass gels. It looks gorgeous, and we're using half the fixtures. They also had table lights that lit up not only the tables, but also the customers. These hard-edged Micro Ellipses give a spot on the table, and that's all you see. I can adjust the size of the spot, make it tiny or bigger, just by putting slides in there.”

Expense was another factor Fazzino was expected to address. The Micro Ellipses use MR-16 lamps which are relatively inexpensive to change. Trackspot lamps are also low-cost. “Those bulbs cost $9,” says the designer. “You could use Intellabeams, but those bulbs are very costly. The maintenance on these is very low.” The ceiling of the Copacabana is also low enough, at 14', for 28 250W Trackspots to do the job. Another element Fazzino added: seven 22" mirror balls. “Mirror balls have been around for 100 years and, as simple as they are, they do the trick. I lit them with the Trackspots for a spectacular effect.”

For the Copacabana stage, which generally houses a dance band, Fazzino uses a package of SLD Mini-PAR floodlights and Altman PAR-56 stage floods. “Stage lights are basic,” he says. “It's rear lights, side lights, front lights on a 24×12 dimmer pack. It's the same concept — if they want to bring in more stage lighting, they use the odd numbers.” While the Trackspots are run by an Intellabeam controller, an NSI MC 7024 two-scene memory lighting controller handles the stage lights and perimeter lights, which include several corner “mini-stages” where the six Copacabana dancers perform. The little matter of the “Copa girls” was presented almost as an afterthought to Fazzino. “By plugging into some of the odd numbers, we can get stage lights on the girls,” he says.

The club's trademark palm trees presented another last-minute challenge. “Nobody knew how to light them,” says the designer. “I had Mini-PARs with custom-made MR-11 fixtures stacked on top, and wired from the bottom. They have barndoors, so we don't get too much spread when I light the ceiling up.”

The smaller downstairs room at the Copacabana extends the club's tropical theme, but is mainly a disco room. Trackspots frame the long sides of the rectangular dance floor, while the main attraction — the 1,200W Clay Paky Astroscan — goes through its rotating, oscillating, tilting, panning, gobo-spinning, color-changing motions in the center. “I went through a lot of fixtures,” says Fazzino. “That thing gets very wild, and it was the one I chose. I was toying with the idea of two of them, but it's a little room, so instead I got two mirror balls.”

Other units in the room include 12 Altman PAR-56 floods and four High End strobe lights, along with 13 American DJ color changers for washes and effects on one wall that had otherwise been dead space. “It gives it a three-dimensional look, but it's subtle,” says Fazzino. “It's not taking away from the other stuff.” Though the room is diminutive, the designer adds, “If you know how to create illusions, you can make this lighting system down here look like 10 lighting systems. But you have to operate it correctly.” To aid the able operator, the booth is equipped with Elektralite CP20, NSI MC 7016, and Martin Freekie controllers.

Apart from his desire to do a good job, Fazzino has a bit of a personal stake in the Copacabana, which opened in November 2002. “This building used to be called S.J. O'Brien,” he explains about the 34th Street location. “Before central air, they made window air-cooling units for office buildings and hotels. My father worked for this company, in this building, for 50 years. He would take the units out, refurbish them, and put them back. He worked in this basement” — Fazzino gestures at the dance floor — “and he took me here when I was 10 years old. His presence is in this building.” If so, he's not the only ghost at this club, which keeps the spirit of mid-20th-century New York alive in 2003.

Contact the author at john.calhoun@rcn.com.

COPACABANA

Upstairs
45 Altman Micro Ellipses
32 Altman PAR-56 floods
28 High End Systems Trackspots
50 SLD Mini-PAR floodlights
54 Versatruss 2" ladder trusses
56 Altman custom-fit stage-pin connector strips
7 22" mirror balls
2 NSI MC 7024 2-scene memory controller
2 NSI DS12-24 2.4kW 12-channel digital dimming systems
1 Axcent custom matrix panel
1 Axcent custom plug panel
1 High End Intellabeam controller
Downstairs
13 American DJ color changers
12 Altman PAR-56 floods
12 High End Trackspots
4 High End Dataflash strobes
1 Clay Paky Astroscan
12 Versatruss 10'x2" ladder trusses
2 22" mirror balls
1 Elektralite CP-20 controller
1 Martin Professional Freekie controller
1 NSI MC 7016 2-scene memory controller
1 NSI DS12-12 digital dimming system
1 Axcent custom matrix wiring panel