Could it be magic? You bet, because Barry's back--and he's not alone. Performing with a 30-piece orchestra, the man who writes those songs kicked off a brand-new tour--with a brand-new style--in July. "He has gone from a theatrical 'rags and drapes' type of production to a sleek, open stage," explains LD Seth Jackson. "It's also an all-automated lighting rig, which is a first for him."
Jackson first did corporate events and one-offs with Manilow last November. After a benefit for Gay Men's Health Crisis [GMHC] at Carnegie Hall with an orchestra, the singer decided he wanted the musicians to join him on tour. "Earlier, we had talked about doing a tour based on the Sinatra tribute album he had just put out," Jackson says. "Barry wanted an elegant and tasteful set--nothing overpowering, because this show was about the musicians. As we had been talking earlier about Sinatra's home I had noticed that there were great shutters and window treatments. So I did a sketch that was all wooden slats and sent that to him."
Manilow was instantly sold on the idea. "He said that he loved how open and airy and comfortable it felt," Jackson says. "That evolved into the nine slatted wood panels that hang with spaces in between them. The design also fit his other criteria, which was that we had to keep it to three trucks. It's a classic, simple presentation, and we build on that with the lighting."
ITC, a St. Louis scenic company, built the wooden slats. "I knew the panels would work, but they've provided the perfect setting to feature the musicians," Jackson says. "The play of light on the panels has turned out better than I ever hoped it could be."
Bandit Lites is the tour's main lighting contractor. "Richard Willis at Bandit introduced me to the Martin MAC series at LDI two years ago and I was totally blown away by them," Jackson says. "As we started developing this tour I realized the MAC was the light that would do the most for the least cost in this situation. I needed a fixture that could be hidden in the set. The 600 is insanely bright and it has a huge color range; the 500 has a great prism and also a very large color range for that kind of spot unit. There are only 56 units in the whole show, lighting 29 people, and Barry, and the set, yet I still have enough flexibility to make it interesting and varied song by song."
The lighting equipment includes: 20 Martin MAC 500s, 18 Martin MAC 600s, 18 Martin MAC 300s, six 8-light fixtures with Wybron Colorams, and one Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console. "For this tour I was able to use the new Hog Edit software, and it's incredible," Jackson says. "I could take the disk with me, put it in my laptop, go online, fix timings or whatever, and then put it in the show. It was a great benefit."
Helping Jackson are lighting crew chief Jeffrey Blevins and automated lighting technician Garret Jansen. The rest of the crew includes: tour manager Keith Dean, operations manager Libby Fabro, production manager Joe Clayton, stage manager Carl Ciasulli, and head carpenter Steve Ernaut.
"My crew was tremendous," says the LD. "The wings are masked off, the monitors are hidden--everything is as dressed and tidy as can be. This tour needed to be this way because there are 30 musicians wandering around who have never been on a rock tour before. If everything was not in order, they'd be tripping and knocking their heads into the dimmer rack. Bandit does a great job with the neatness and cleanliness and kind of 'nonexistent' feel we wanted out of the system."
Jackson was also able to set up the system at the company's Nashville facility. "I was able to get a lot of the base looks built in before I arrived in Los Angeles to rehearse with the band," says the LD. "I took digital photos and e-mailed them to Barry and we'd talk at the end of the day.
"When we all came together it took no time at all to get everything running," Jackson continues. "We spent one or two evenings going over the technical aspects--it only took four or five hours to get the whole show locked in."
Yet because Manilow was used to huge shows, he was a little skeptical at first that a completely automated rig was the best choice. "When he looked at it for the first time he asked me if I was sure I had enough lights," Jackson laughs. "When he started watching cues he thought it was great. After the tour began, he said he wanted to see the audience more, but he asked what we could do to redirect what we had. The guy is brilliant--he is aware of everything that's going on and he's very involved. He knows that anything he does effects what I do and the sound guys and everyone else. He's a total professional. If he changed something he made sure I knew early enough in the day so that I could update a focus or whatever I needed to do. That made it a lot of fun."
While the show, especially the choreographed opening, is highly structured, Manilow does leave room for improvisation. "There are 'mystery' areas, such as the fourth song has a few options," Jackson says. "He'll do the one he thinks is best, based on each audience. He knows which buttons to push to get the optimum response."
Jackson is currently touring with his design for Kenny G, while Manilow's tour is on hiatus. "He's playing at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut on New Year's Eve, and then we'll go through the process again when we go to England in January," says the LD. "Then we'll come back to the US and finish up in March."