Broadway's youthquake, sparked by the rock musical Rent and family-oriented Disney shows Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, continues with Footloose, based on the 1984 Kevin Bacon film. The book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, adapted from Pitchford's screenplay, still tells the tale of a rebellious teen determined to overturn the ban on dancing in a Midwestern town. But where the Herbert Ross film reveled in American rural landscapes, Broadway's Footloose has a metallic, high-tech look, designed to bring the show into the 90s.
John Lee Beatty's basic set is a blue box, which occasionally opens to reveal an abstractly sketched horizon or to admit another piece of scenery. The overall look is both shiny and minimal, a canvas for the assertive work of Ken Billington, who created an unusual two-tier lighting design. The show's regular book scenes, set in the homes, schoolrooms, and fields of the small town Bomont, feature the kind of understated, naturalistic work that Billington has done for dozens of plays. For the show's opening and closing numbers, among other moments, the lighting rocks out in a major way, with whole pipes full of moving lights brazenly exposed to the audience's gaze. "In the concert world, this is simple," says the designer. "But you don't see two types of moving lights aimed at the audience, ever, on Broadway."
Billington makes his intentions clear in the first scene, when the show curtain is removed to reveal low-hanging pipes of Morpheus moving lights, which then rise to a still-visible height. Moving light beams whipsaw across the stage, while 72 Thomas PAR-36s (13V, 100W) placed in the floor percolate to the beat of the title tune. ("We designed the opening sequence in my office, using WYSIWIG," he says, adding, "instead of spending four days lighting it, we did in a day and half.") The designer takes a similar approach during the finale, when the kids cut loose at the long-awaited school dance, and in the number "Holding Out for a Hero," in which the female lead, backed up by her friends, goes into full performance mode at the local Burger Blast.
The show's moving light component includes 22 Morpheus FaderBeams (575W), 12 Morpheus Power Spots (600W) and eight Morpheus Power Softs (600W). "The Morpheus Fader Beam is the only incandescent spotting and flooding moving light made. I can have saturated colors and I can have pale colors," says Billington. "The other thing Morpheus has that nobody else does is the SB6 bar. It's a bar that hooks onto the pipe with six fixtures attached to it. When you change a fixture out, it just snaps off the bar, and we never have to refocus the show."
But moving lights are only part of the Footloose design. Other contributions made by Billington include light boxes built into the blue box set to create the look of the Chicago skyline and, later, the windows of Bomont. For the romantic ballad "Almost Paradise," performed by the two leads on a railroad bridge above the river, with water effects created by two GAM Products TwinSpins, 10 DHA Gobo Rotators, and two White Light WaveFXs. Billington also designed the electric Burger Blast sign with Beatty, creating various sizzle and chase sequences with the letters.
The bulk of Billington's conventional plot consists of ETC Source Fours, with a number of MR11 Micro-Strips from Altman and dimmable fluorescents from L&E, among other units. Additional components include three Lycian 2kW xenon followspots, Wybron ColoRam and GoboRam scrollers, Morpheus Color Faders for some of the Source Fours, an Atmosphere Haze Machine from MDG, and one Bowen Jet Stream Wind Machine. Control for the show is provided by an ETC Obsession 1550 console, with the Wholehog from AC Lighting/Flying Pig Systems used to control the moving lights. The show also utilizes six 96x2.4kW ETC Sensor High Density Dimmer Racks along with six low-voltage, radio-controller dimmers. Equipment for the production was supplied by Four Star Lighting, with the moving lights coming directly from Morpheus.
Additional personnel on the production include costume designer Toni-Leslie James, sound designer Tony Meola, associate lighting designer Brian Monahan, assistant lighting designer Jon Kusner, automated lighting programmer Warren Flynn, production electrician Michael S. Lo Bue, electrician Joseph A. Pearson, and assistant electricians Gregory Chabay and Gregory S. Fedigan.
Footloose was reviled by the New York critics, but the producers have dug in for a run, with a national tour all set to go in December. Billington, who calls the production "one of the nicest experiences I've ever had," adds that audiences respond to the show even if highbrows don't. "They've liked it at every performance," he says. "It never changes. And if you get young people in there, it's a ruckus." For the moment, anyway, Footloose rocks on.