More and more, off-Broadway is becoming fertile ground for new musicals that turn into hits (i.e., Altar Boyz, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, etc.), and the newest production at the Zipper Theatre on West 37th Street is no exception. Once Around the Sun opened at the end of July and continues to wail, as it tells its tale of Kevin, a would-be pop star, and a year in his life as he finds the fame he so desperately wants.

The set is a series of three stages: one center, or main stage, and two side stages elevated on either side. Designed by Beowulf Borritt, the multi-level set provides the perfect backdrop for LD Jason Lyons' lighting. But the venue itself proved to be a challenge early on. “Just figuring out how we were going to fit everything in here [was a challenge], which was actually part of the reason for the amount of moving lights we have,” he says. “Initially, it wasn't going to be that many, but the fact that we only had so many places to hang lights, we put all these ideas into one moving light and put it here. A lot of it was more out of practicality than just having a big moving light rig.”

Lyons says that his chief goal was to make it not just another rock-and-roll show. “I read the script, and it is 22 different scenes in a tiny theatre, and we were worried about how to achieve that in a way that was special and meant something to the story and not just old school downtown PAR-can rock,” he says. “We worked hard at creating a different feel for each number and that had to do with what was happening overall, not just what was going on with that number — the whole building of Kevin's career, from playing downtown clubs to becoming a big rock star, and all the turmoil he was going through in the process. I wanted to light it with the flair of a rock show with the sensitivity of a play. I feel like we achieved that for the most part.”

With a resumé that includes associate or assistant LD duties to Paul Gallo on two Broadway shows and to Brian MacDevitt on 11 Broadway productions — the two were co-designers on last year's Good Vibrations — Lyons was faced with another challenge in terms of dealing with a budget that was substantially smaller than Broadway shows. “We had a very tight budget and went back and forth with the shops a lot and found different things to sub out and try. Some of the stuff was not necessarily the first choice, but the choices we made were out of a necessity for the show.”

Since the lighting rig is in full view of the audience, the fixtures themselves had to be able to fit into the show's hip, Lower East Side Manhattan atmosphere. “I wanted something that would be able to look good in the atmosphere and look good aesthetically, because all of the lights are in view, and that's why we chose the [High End Systems] Studio Beams…they have such nice look to them to begin with,” he explains. “With those, we were able to get tight enough to get some beautiful beams in the air and get some nice washes.”

Another challenge that Lyons faced, that he was actually excited to deal with, was the deck of the main stage, which is completely covered in Plexiglas. “Most of the seats are looking straight down at it, so we really needed to be able to treat it in a way that wasn't going to be offensive to anybody and still get some really great looks out of it,” he says. “We spent the first couple of days just playing with bouncing different angles of light off of it and up onto the walls and up onto different parts of the set, because we knew we could never completely get rid of that, so we wanted to figure out a way to embrace it and use different styles of templates and soften or sharpen them depending on the look.”

The use of the reflective stage ended up being so successful that Lyons tailored much of the show's look to be built upon the properties of using the Plexiglas®. “For the office of the LA music mogul, we wanted it to be open with light streaming through a big window, so we had a lot of front light on, and it was doing a diagonal stripe,” he says. “We added some linear templates with moving lights going in the same direction to refine it and make it look like it was a completely purposeful choice. It ended up being something we used to create a world the characters could walk around in and be seen and still have this great background.”

When asked to pick a fixture that was really the workhorse of his rig, Lyons is hard-pressed to choose just one. “The MACs do most of the work in terms of lighting the people,” he says. “For the most part, for the span of the whole show, between the scenes and the rock songs, it would have to be the MACs. Otherwise, it's a good, even balance between the Studio Spots and Studio Beams creating the atmosphere with all of their templates and washes in the air for the rock songs.”

Originally set for a limited run through September 18, Once Around the Sun has extended its run at the Zipper Theatre through October 16 as of press time. The show is scheduled to land on Broadway in the fall of 2006.

Once Around The Sun Units

Lighting Designer: Jason Lyons
Associate LD: Rachel Eichorn
Programmer: Timothy F. Rogers

9 High End Systems Studio Spot® CMY 575W
8 High End Systems Studio Beam® 700W
4 High End Systems TechnoBeam® 575W
7 Martin Mac 2000 Performance 1200W
27 ETC Source Four® 36 575W
39 ETC Source Four 50° 575W
6 ETC Source Four PAR MFL 575W
9 ETC Source Four PAR WFL 575W
1 Altman Beam Projector 1K
13 L&E 6' Mini-Strip EYF @ 750W
27 GAMProducts Star Strobes 100W
2 High End Systems Dataflash® AF 1000
3 Electroluminescent Tape 25'
18 Wybron CXI Color Scrollers
1 MDG Hazer
2 Reel EFX DF-50 Hazer
1 Rosco Image Pro
1 Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 2 and Wholehog® PC Backup