Currently making its second run across the American landscape, the Backstreet Boys' Millennium tour is just like their song of the same name: "Larger Than Life." The Boys--Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, A.J. McLean, and Kevin Richardson--start off their show on a high point by flying in over the audience from one end of the arena on snowboards while the theme from Star Wars plays.
They do eventually land on the massive stage, which is set up in the round and houses the show's six-person band, 10 dancers, and enough space for numerous costume changes. The overhead rig includes a generous lighting system, four sets of speakers from Clair Brothers Audio new i4 system, five spokes from which the Boys again fly over the audience later in the show, and a piano--concealed in the rig's center ring and carefully lowered at the appropriate moment for a solo ballad. After some fabulous pyro flame bursts, courtesy of Visual Impressions Pyrotechnics, the Boys begin singing the first of their many hits, but it's all barely audible above the fans' delighted screams.
Nashville-based Premier Global Production Company is the tour's staging and lighting contractor. The company's president, Troy Volhoffer, is also on the road with the band as assistant stage manager. "We are a staging and lighting company based in Nashville and Regina, Canada," he explains. "In 1996, I was in Europe doing the opera Aida, and I got a call to do a Canadian tour with the Backstreet Boys. I had never heard of them, but we put the deal together and embarked on the tour in the spring of 97. We continued the next summer with a European tour of open-air stadiums--they had absolutely no US success at that time. We put together the whole package and became the general contractor for the tour. We started off with a mainly conventional lighting system with about 30 to 40 moving heads. Now we have about 160 moving heads and all custom trussing."
Even before preteens and teenage girls in the US started plastering their rooms with BSB posters and debating with friends over their favorites, the band was doing tours with 14 trucks' worth of gear. "There were stadium shows in Germany. Though it was a big conventional rig, it was pretty intense," Volhoffer says. "Now we have about 15 trucks for arenas and a 123-person entourage. This tour is the first time they've flown. Flying by Foy is the company that worked that out and it adds a lot to the show. It's not overdone and the kids get a blast out of having their favorite pop star fly over their heads."
The show's artistic design was put together by Mike Moore, Mark Ravitz, and the Backstreet Boys. "Kevin Richardson is the production-oriented person of the group, but they are all in tune to what's going on and what they want to see. Structurally, I designed the staging with production manager Tom Hudak--then we made it larger for the US leg so there would be more dance area," Volhoffer explains. "We designed the staging system for a quick loadout; it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to build and about 35 minutes to disassemble. The whole loadout takes about two hours and 15 minutes. It's very efficient."
The production crew began putting the show together in January 1999. After touring Europe, the Boys headed to the US in the fall with a slightly improved version of the same show. "We added lighting pods, which are the spaceship effects," Volhoffer says. "We tweaked the whole system by making some additions and deleting some impractical elements. The crew on this tour has been together for quite some time, which is one of the reasons everything runs so smoothly from a production standpoint."
LD Jorge Valdez joined the crew for the last year just before the European leg. "I was hired by Premier to program the show, although, realistically, I designed the working part of it on the rig. I put the lights where they needed to go," he explains. "Two weeks into the European leg, I became the crew chief as well. For the US leg, I continued to do all three jobs. It was a lot of fun--and a lot of work at the same time. For the US leg, I added a hub above the circle, which looks like a big sprocket, and then I added spot chairs and more lights in different areas.
"The concept was very much the Boys' idea--they wanted a space-looking contraption, so everything had to be kind of space age-looking," continues the LD. "It all had to coordinate to look something like a spaceship."
Apart from that directive, the lighting design and cueing were mainly left up to Valdez. The Boys only say, "I want it that way" to the managers, who then pass along the requests to Valdez. Except, again, for Richardson. "Kevin was very involved in the lighting," the LD says. "He is the only one who tells me what he'd like to see. Or what he liked, which is cool. It isn't really a powerful show, in the sense of a lot of lights, but it is quite an interesting rig."
All of the lights are Martin luminaires. "That's for one reason: their equipment is reliable," Valdez says. "It made our life very easy, in terms of repair time and maintenance. There was hardly ever anything to fix. I also run all the lighting from a Martin Case P2 console (with an extra as a slave for backup), and I call the 10 spotlights."
The rest of the lighting equipment includes: 63 Martin MAC 500s, 62 Martin MAC 600s, 10 Martin MAC 250s, seven Martin MAC 300s, 25 Martin Roboscan 918s, four custom pods, 24 sections of custom circle truss, eight-spoke super truss sub grid, two custom 104-channel power distribution systems, an 80' cable bridge, 400' of light tape highlighting the stage's outline, four High End Systems F-100 fog machines, four Reel EFX smoke machines, and one Jem Hazer.
"None of the gobos were custom made," Valdez says. "We used stock gobos in the lights, but I feel we use them differently than most other shows. The spaceship pods were made to order. All four of them fold up together to make one truss. Each has police beacons and strobes (the kind you see on buoys), as well as MAC 500s and 600s. Their sole purpose was for audience lighting, which was pretty cool. I never really lit the stage with them."
Valdez reveals that his biggest challenge was lighting the show for video. "All the lighting was involved with the video, because there was so much of it," he says. "The show really had to be lit for video, which made it very bright. There are five video cameras, and, to the Boys, the video is the most important aspect of the production. Their faces are up on the projection screens at all times, so they want to look great."
Unfortunately, the show's original lighting designers didn't take the show's ample video presence into account. "The TV aspect was never really thought of when they first designed it. That was one of the things I had to fix when they gave it to me," Valdez explains. "The stage for the US leg was even larger, so the downstage line was even further out, which meant there was no front light at all from the truss. It was a challenge because of the way the rig was built and designed."
Valdez was able to make some adjustments for the US leg. "But it was still difficult to get enough front lighting for the video," he says. "And spotlights were very hard to call, because there were 10 spots with 10 new operators in every venue. Plus, most of the songs are very moody. You don't want the songs to be too bright because you'll kill the vibe for the audience, but then the video starts asking for more light. So it was pretty complicated, and being in the round only added to the difficulty."
The LD was able to solve this problem by having five of the truss spots on the Boys always on in white light. "Then I use the other five spotlights, the 2k xenons, on the dancers in color and on the audience," Valdez says. "That has made everything a lot more consistent for the video. Once we got to the US, I was able to lock down the spot positions every night, and that also made life a lot easier, because, in reality, the spotlights were my only front light."
With all the costume changes and scenic effects, the two-hour show has been well scripted from beginning to end. "The show is pretty much the same every night--the only variable is that the Boys do what they want to do," Valdez says. "They spontaneously choose which sides they want to play to, so we have to keep up with them. But all the choreography and the set list stay pretty much the same, which helps me. That was to my benefit, but talking to 10 spot operators every night and explaining to them how this show works is pretty hard. Lucky for me, the crew does a great job."
The rest of the tour's production crew includes: tour manager Paul "Skip" Rickert, production assistant Laura Belle Shiffman, assistant tour manager Tim Krieg, stage manager Gary Perkins, lighting technicians Nikki Brote, Christopher "MC Woo" Yung, Shane Gowler, Garth Leclerc, and Matt Bloom, FOH sound engineer Tim Lamoy, monitor engineer Andre Corbeil, sound technicians Andy Sottile, James Leonti, Kevin Kapler, and Tim Holder, pyrotechnicians Nat Turco, Cliff Kennedy, and David Scott, flying supervisor Joe McGeogh, flying technicians Pat Bash and Ed Bash, video director James Thweatt, projectionist Mike Sienkiewicz, camera operators Bertrand Parc, William Parisien, Lee Garland, Gustavia Miller, and Scott Stoughton, carpenters Butch Ruf, John Johnson, and Greg Gunn. Tour vendors include: I-Mag Video/AV Vid eo for video; Branum Enterprises, rigging; ShowPower, generators; MD Systems/Clair Brothers, sound; and Upstaging, trucking .
The tour is currently scheduled to continue through mid-March, but may be extended to reach as many adoring fans as possible.