Backstreet's Back With a Bold New Look

“I'm really enamored of a lot of the stuff we did on this show,” proclaims lighting designer Peter Morse. That's high praise from the man who has worked with such luminaries as Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. The show which Morse finds so intriguing? It's the latest arena/stadium tour from pop sensation the Backstreet Boys.

Morse got involved with the project after getting a call from the group's production manager, Tom Hudak. “Tom called me and said, ‘We have a monster here, and we have to put together people who work large shows,’” explains Morse. When he came on board, the LD found that the production was embroiled in meetings. “There were a lot of discussions, and it took a while for the show to evolve,” he comments.

Eventually, decisions were made, and Morse had a look at the preliminary set, designed by John McGraw. “Originally, there were elements of the set design that wouldn't work in arenas and because it was such a massive set, the weights were way over the top,” he notes. “So John McGraw threw in the idea of curved trusses that radiated in size from upstage to downstage, giving the audience a forced-perspective, Hollywood Bowl look. I took that idea and ran with it, keeping in mind the layout of the stage and what our limitations were in the arenas.” The show also features a 20'-diameter (6m) B stage out in the audience that the band accesses via a 120' (37m) bridge, much to the delight of their female fans. “It's been done before, it will be done again, and we're doing it now,” Morse says wryly.

The meetings lingered on, all the way up to rehearsals. “The way the show was drawn originally in presentation form, it was all curved trussing,” Morse explains. “Because of the ongoing discussion, this came down to the wire — we were only two months away from the start of the tour and we didn't have a set yet and rehearsals were about to start,” he explains. Since time was of the essence, it was impractical to get custom-built curved trussing. “When we put this out to bid to the vendors, we said that we'll use your trussing, but we have to devise hinges that will allow it go into curves,” the designer notes.

STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY

Instead of simply being a utilitarian element, the trusses became a major visual focus of the show itself. “The trussing has become a set element, and it was presented by John McGraw as a set element,” Morse confirms. “When I originally looked at the front elevation drawings and the plan of the trusses, I saw the possibility for a wonderful graphic — the descending curve of the truss.”

To give further visual punch, Morse added truss toners. “A lot of the High End 575W Studio Colors are used as truss toners,” he notes. “Every inch of the truss is toned, and we have one light per section of truss, so we have an infinite variety of chases and so on.” He also has PAR-64s mounted on top of the curved trusses for audience lights. “The rearmost electric is lighting down in the gold seats, and then each ascending truss lights further into the house,” he says. “It has a beautiful graphic to it, and it doubles as our audience hits.”

In end, the rig consists of three primary curved electrics — a first electric that's 120' long and flies at a 58' (18m) trim, the second comes in at 90' (27m) long and flies at 54' (16m), and the third is 60' (18m) and flies at 48' (15m). There's a 90' semi-circular truss for the LED wall, as well as a 40' (12m) full circular truss out over the B stage. Between the second and third electrics is a 60' truss that Morse has designated for his Syncrolites and five truss spots. “The Syncrolites are there for accenting each Boy,” Morse explains. “There's no denying that the Syncrolites are there — they're a magical portion of the show.”

There are also numerous lighting positions on the set itself. “A lot of the Vari*Lites and so forth are mounted on the set,” Morse comments. “It's all polished aluminum — a very exposed, structural set.” For floor lighting, there is an upstage truss. “Most of the Coemar CF 1200s we have are on a suspended truss flown up 8' to 10' — that's our floor lighting,” he says.

BACKSTREET BACKLIGHT

The truss is integrated into the set, and the Coemars shoot through the structure. “I wanted something that was definitely going to punch through from behind, because there's a lot of obstruction, which is what I wanted,” explains Morse. “I wanted to get rid of the flatness of the look.” To create depth and layers, Morse turned to the CF 1200. “The CF 1200 is the brightest of all of the wash lights out there,” he notes. “They're specifically there to give me the back wash from the floor — I put the brightest wash light I could find in there.”

The LD also has another upstage position for backlighting the band, which originally was going to be filled with Coemar NATs. “There's a position on the set that's only about 10' above the performance level, up at the back, where I originally had Coemar NATs,” he says. “They were 2.5ks, which are really bright. We brought them in and we started putting them up there, but they were so massive that I realized they were a problem getting them in and out — there were heavy ballasts and so on.”

Morse looked for a unit that would be less physically problematic in that particular position; he turned to the new High End Cyberlight Turbo. “At 10', there was little difference between the NAT and the Cyber Turbo. There's no question that the NAT would outperform at 60' in the air, but at 10' above, behind the Boys, the Cyber Turbo was more than sufficient — it was killer. And it was a smaller package that was easy to handle,” he concludes.

There's a variety of equipment on this tour, from Vari-Lite to Coemar to High End equipment, which gives Morse maximum creative flexibility. “It's great to stay with one company whenever possible, but frankly, each light has its plus and minus qualities,” he remarks. “That's why the lights are there — for whatever they offer.” The lighting package is provided by Premier Global, which has offices in Saskatchewan and Nashville. “They've been with the band from the beginning, and, when we were in the bidding process, they came up with the best price, and they've done a really good job.” The Vari*Lites were provided through VLPS Los Angeles.

THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL

A show like the Backstreet Boys should be colorful, bright, and visually exciting, and Morse delivers. “The Boys didn't have specifics to throw at me regarding colors, but I felt instinctively that the vibrant colors and the primaries were really important for this kind of music,” he notes. “That's what I used more than anything — less pale color and a lot more in-your-face colors.” The bold looks of the show are painted in primaries, but Morse added other colors into the mix as well. “When I needed a hit, I used a vivid yellow or a very pale color which would cut through.”

White light also plays a role. “On a couple of our big blitzes, we have all daylight hitting the audience and we add in the PARs, which are quite warm compared to the daylight,” he observes. “You can hit them all with daylight and it looks like a wall of soup, but as soon as you add something that's just a shade off, all of a sudden the white light gets even whiter.”

Morse and his programmers Troy Eckerman and Warren Flynn worked on the show sequentially, to capture its rhythm. “Generally speaking, by the time we're at the middle of the show, I've become comfortable enough with the rig and the design to go back and embellish on the first couple of songs and make them better. That's something that we never got to do,” he contends. However, upon reflection, sometimes the first ideas are the best. “The more I look at it, the more I realize that the show naturally builds. By the time we get to the end of the show, with the last few songs, we uncovered a lot of possibilities in the rig and it took on a flavor of its own,” he adds.

Eventually Morse did have the option to tweak the opening, but decided against it. “The more I thought about going back and re-doing the opening, the more I realized it was perfect,” the designer notes. The show, which was programmed on two Wholehog IIs, starts off simply and becomes more complex from a cueing standpoint, until the finale, which is Morse's favorite part of the show. “As tired as we were from the long nights and the pressing schedule, when we got to those last three songs, we were inspired. ‘The Call’ is great. ‘Backstreet's Back’ and ‘Shape of My Heart’ — we just loved lighting those songs.”

While Morse explores other projects, the tour is under the control of lighting director Butch Allen. “It's a complex show to operate and to call,” Morse observes. “You have five Backstreets, each with two spots (one front and one truss spot) on them; they're moving all over the place and they want to be illuminated when they sing, but when the others aren't singing, they don't want to be lit at all. It's very complicated, and Butch is extraordinary.” The Black and Blue tour returns to the road in early June and continues on into September.

BACKSTREET BOYS BLACK & BLUE TOUR 2001

LIGHTING DESIGNER
Peter Morse

LIGHTING DIRECTOR
Butch Allen

PRODUCTION MANAGER
Tom Hudak

STAGE MANAGER
Gary Perkins

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER
Troy Vollhoffer

CREW CHIEF
Steven “Creech” Anderson

VARI*LITE TECHNICIAN
Greg “Lil G” Kocurek

MOVING LIGHT TECHNICIAN
Paul Costa

SYNCROLITE TECHNICIAN
Jorge Del Angel

LIGHTING CREW
Jeff Arnason, Nikki Brote, Andy Opie, Travis Robinson, Kenny Winkle

DIMMER TECHNICIAN
Shane Gowler

TOUR VENDORS
Premier Global Production VLPS Los Angeles

EQUIPMENT LIST
22 Coemar113 CF 1200 HEs
14 Coemar CF 1200 wash lights
22 Coemar CF7 wash lights
90 High End Systems100 Studio Beams
34 High End Systems Studio Color 575s
8 High End Systems Studio Color 250s
6 High End Systems Studio Spot 250s
10 High End Systems Cyberlights
5 Syncrolite114 SX3Ks
45 Vari*Lite115 VL6s
108 1kW PAR-64s
4 8-lights w/DWEs
5 8 lights w/FBOs
4 Wybron116 Coloram scrollers
5 Lycian117 1,200W medium-throw followspots
6 brand?XXX 48-way power distros
3 Vari*Lite Mod Racks
1 Syncrolite power distros
1 Vari*Lite power rack and Coloram power supply
1 ETC102 96-way dimmer rack
2 Flying Pig Systems103 Wholehog II consoles
20 Columbus McKinnon118 1/2-ton chain hoists
29 Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain hoists
42 brand?XXX 8' custom pre-rig truss
14 brand?XXX 8' heavy duty utility truss
4 brand?XXX 15' curved truss
Lee Filters119 gel

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