S inging his ubiquitous hit song, "Livin' la Vida Loca," a leather pants-clad Ricky Martin rose up from the huge stage on the hood of a convertible to reveal himself to the fans who had packed Madison Square Garden on the first of two sold-out nights there last October. He took their hearts and he took their money for two hours, making stops along the way to instruct the adoring masses on how to "Shake Your Bon Bon" and also get in touch with their spiritual side.
When the first song ended, Martin thanked everyone in the audience for being there and vowed, "I swear I am going to leave my soul on the stage tonight and I hope you do the same." Then, he and the band launched into the first of many Spanish-language songs of the evening, and continued to alternate between both languages for the rest of the show.
Creating appropriately diverse looks for the big hits, the Latin-flavored numbers, and the numerous ballads was the least of the challenges LD Peter Morse faced when designing this show. "My very first meeting was at Tribe with set designer Bruce Rodgers," Morse says. "Bruce is really a genius and his set designs are very much into the 21st century--very futuristic and aggressive. But one of the things that hit me when I first saw it was how am I going to light all this? Especially when Marty Hom, the tour manager, greeted me at the door and said, 'Here's your budget.' Then I went in and looked at the model and said, 'There's no way.' The model demands a budget three times what they had.
"As beautiful as the set was, there was so much activity being planned on the stage (bungee jumpers, flying tracks, fabric tubes, elevators, etc.) that there was little or no room for any illumination," Morse continues. He immediately expressed his concerns to production manager Joyce Fleming and other key personnel.
One plus was that the set took light beautifully. "But it was a challenge to find positions to hang the lights to accomplish that," Morse says. "My continuing comment was, 'You know, you have a fabulous show planned, I'm just not sure anyone's going to see it.' We ended up with some different angles from those that I originally wanted--certainly steeper and a little flatter, but it continued the vertical aspect of the show. The trim is way up there at 45' or 50' (14m or 15m), which forced us to use very high output fixtures and gives us a very toppy feel instead of a backlight situation. It forced us to program less when we really wanted to use more, but it actually worked out better that way."
With Light & Sound Design as the tour's main lighting contractor, Morse chose to use a mainly automated lighting package composed of 250 High End Systems luminaires (a combination ofStudio Colors(R), Studio Spots(R), and Cyberlights(R)) supplemented by 22 Vari*Lite(R) VL7(TM) automated luminaires. "The new Studio Color 575 has a consistently high level of output, and they've eliminated essentially all the green that comes out of those lights, so that is easily correctable if needed. They read nicely at 45' so I was confident with them."
Rather than the Studio Spots, Morse's first choice was to use VL6(TM) automated luminaires. "I defaulted to using the Studio Spots because it became a pricing issue. The only reason I don't mind admitting that is because I was very happy with the results we got from them. The one real problem I have with them is that the breakdown of colors on the wheel as they come out of the factory is unrealistic. We had to recolor all the lights to get better mixing out of them, but the lights turned out to be really great. They have good output--they're essentially Studio Colors with a hard edge."
Although the Cyberlights were also not Morse's first choice, they also fit in well with the rest of the rig. "One of the most useful applications we had for the Cyberlights was in the vertical trusses on either upstage corner. Because of the 3/4 thrust design of the stage, we had them shooting down either side of the stage in a vertical format, and they really provided a lot of punch."
The VL7 automated luminaires did not mesh as well with the rest of the lighting design, but Morse liked it that way. "They stood off on their own, but they gave a good focus on certain areas when we used them all in one position," he says. "The design's most important factor was that most of the luminaires are on yokes, because that allowed me to shoot upstage or downstage, so I could cover twice the area. The trussing was broken down so short to fit in all the areas that my backlight trussing actually consisted of 40' (12m) of truss all combined--which is nothing for a show this size. Somehow, we were able to utilize everything in the space provided."
Finding acceptable positions for the moving lights was difficult, but placing the spotlights became an even bigger issue. Morse says, "The spotlights ended up where they are by default--we put them where we could live with them, not where we wanted them. It's interesting because four of our positions got forced out onto the front truss, which actually gave me positions I'd never thought of before. Surprisingly, they worked out really well."
The final element was Arri 2.5k fresnels with pantographs. "I had them custom built with Compulite yokes and dousers combined with an automated pantograph system that allows them to come down to as low as 35' (11m) from the rig. I put them in various positions on the stage for those one or two moments in the show when we thought they would be most important to us."
While in rehearsals, Morse found the perfect moment for this effect. "During the song 'I Am Made of You,' Ricky gets in this circular lift that then flies up and out over the stage," Morse explains. "We juxtapose the position with him flying out and those coming in--it's a very powerful look. They're a lot of fun, but they're not an easy light to troupe or maintain. My original count of nine was whittled down to five, which was certainly more manageable because they're a high-maintenance fixture. It's not a large fixture, but by the time you add the yoke and the douser to it, it's the size of a small refrigerator."
Production rehearsals were broken up into two different areas. "We had three days in Los Angeles to put it all together and look at some focuses, then we moved it all cross-country to Florida," Morse explains. "The load-in took another three days and the trim there was a little low. We had nine days in that building to program this entire show. We started at 8pm and worked through until 8am, when the carpenters came back in and we got some sleep. For seven straight days, that's how we programmed and delivered a show. Then we moved to Miami for two days. The night before opening there we were still programming the last three numbers of the show. But opening night we had something. We were kind of in shock, but we had it."
Joel Young and David Arch worked with Morse to program the Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles. "After the first show David had to leave for a previous commitment in Miami, so Zeb Cochran came in to cover for him, just to make sure there were no problems," Morse says. "Both David and Joel were fast as lightning and thorough and really competent. We got it finished on time, and with a little bit of clean-up, we were fine."
The LDs also worked with Eduardo Rodriguez and Marco Hidalgo, who have done Martin's concert lighting for years. "They're wonderful guys, and they know his music intimately, which was a big help," Morse says. "They'd never seen a system this big, so they were glad to sit back and let us do it. There was a language barrier because he speaks no English and I speak only a little Spanish--so by the end of the programming sessions we were all speaking broken English and broken Spanish. In the end, we reached a fairly good compromise."
Both Rodriguez and Hidalgo went to Wholehog school about a month before load-in to study how the board works. "Even though they couldn't program, I wanted them to be able to run the show," Morse says. "They have pride in the work they've done, and Ricky, to his credit, wanted to keep them on, even though they knew very little about this technology. The only way I saw fit to do that was to bring in Butch Allen. He's there to help if they get into trouble and also call the spot cues in the US. He really helps keep the show afloat and keeps it consistent."
Keeping track of everything that goes on during the show was the greatest challenge for everyone involved. There are 10 dancers and eight musicians, plus Martin and two backup singers. "There are as many as 20 people plus Ricky in some of the big production numbers," Morse says. "Early on in rehearsals, when we were doing run-throughs, the director of the show, Jamie King, came up to me and said there was a lighting problem during 'Livin' la Vida Loca.' I asked what it was and he said, 'We can't really see Ricky. It's hard to find Ricky onstage.' I said I would look at it but he should remind himself of the game 'Where's Waldo.' He didn't know what that was, so I explained that it's a children's game where there are about 1,000 people in a picture and the object is to find Waldo. This show is like that. It's kind of hard to pick him out no matter what I do. It's a massive production--as large as, if not larger than, anything that Michael Jackson's ever attempted.
"But when the first show day arrived, to Ricky's credit, he really rose above it all," Morse continues. "With his personality and energy he just popped out. I'd like to think the lighting was part of that, but it was mostly him. He didn't really need any of it, but it complemented him and he complemented it as well, so it all worked." The tour is currently making its way through Canada and more overseas dates are expected to be added soon.
Tour concept and artistic designer Jamie King
Lighting designer Peter Morse
Lighting directors Eduardo Rodriguez, Marco Hidalgo
Lighting programmers David Arch, Joel Young, Zeb Cochran
Special guest LD Butch Allen
Lighting crew chief Robert Cooper
Master electricians Mike Finocchiaro, Jennifer Mohr
Lighting technicians Bill Boyd, Dave Grayson (motors), Bruce Heard, Jason "Sarge" Hudgens
Vari-Lite lighting technician Wendy Fletcher
High End Systems lighting technician Mike Parker
Grid technicians Shawn Needham, Wes Davidson
Showpower technician Chuck Phelps
Production design Bruce Rodgers/Tribe, Inc.
Design management Mike Rhodes/Tribe, Inc.
Art direction Joseph Kale and C. Jamie Carr/Tribe, Inc.
Set construction All Access Staging/Erik Eastland
Video supplier PSL
Main lighting contractor Light & Sound Design/Tim Murch and Barry Claxton
Additional lighting Vari-Lite Production Services/Curry Grant
Lighting equipment (22) Vari*Lite VL7s (42) High End Systems Cyberlights (75) High End Systems Studio Spots (135) High End Systems Studio Colors (5) Arri 2.5kW fresnels on pantographs (142) PAR-64s (8) ACL PAR-64s (8) Mole-Richardson 8-light Molefays (6) Lighting & Electronics 4' Mini-Strips (12) L&E 8' Mini-Strips (9) Lycian HMI 1,200kW followspots (3) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles with two expansion wings (8) Reel EFX smoke machines (2) High End Systems F-100 fog machines (42) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain hoist motors (6) Columbus McKinnon 1/2-ton chain hoist motors (1) Skjonberg motion control system