Australian pop princess Kylie Minogue recently made a triumphant return to her homeland with her On a Night Like This tour. Having escaped the suburbs of Melbourne some 15 years ago, Minogue has become one of Australia's most successful exports.
[For the uninitiated, the author, one of our Australian correspondents, explains: "Kylie has a huge and loyal fan base both in Australia and the UK, not to mention throughout Asia. She is not yet 33, but she has had number one hits over three decades. During her performance she wowed the crowd and I don't think I've ever seen a female star who works harder during a two-hour show. She stamped her infectious, flirtatious personality on every song, to the delight of a sell-out crowd. Accompanied by eight dancers, two singers, and a flawless five-piece band, she was the consummate professional. Kylie's lips are on a new 45-cent Australian stamp and her bum has become a national treasure!" Minogue appears briefly as the Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge.]
The tour had already taken Minogue through sell-out, back-to-back gigs in Europe and left rave reviews in its wake before it arrived on her native shores. The original Australian tour, playing large arenas, sold out within hours of release so concerts were extended from four to nine in Sydney and to a total of seven in Melbourne.
And so she arrived in Sydney with a touring show of 64 cast, crew, and support staff (including her mother, who does her wardrobe), five truckloads of equipment, a batch of favorable overseas reviews, a hit album, and a new lingerie line. Her audience is a demographic surprise: children (and their parents and grandparents), teenagers who would have been in kindergarten when she had her first hits, baby-boomers, and her gay audience. Over the years Kylie has become a gay icon and there were plenty of preening dance party boys wearing gold glomesh hotpants in the audience. With Sydney home to the famous Gay Mardi Gras, it was no wonder she broke AC/DC's record for shows at the Entertainment Center.
English lighting designer Vince Foster was called in to redesign the show lighting two days before the tour was due to start in the UK. "I found the original design used an awful lot of PAR cans with 140 color changers and that was too rock-and-roll for Kylie," says Foster. "I got rid of most of the PAR cans and supplemented the rig with High End Systems Studio Colors® and Studio Beams™. The Studio Beams were placed on the floor to light into the set as well as light the dancers at shin height."
Foster also changed the front truss that originally had PAR cans in six different colors and put bastard amber in them all. He kept the color changers to change the color of the wash. "I've worked quite a lot with dancers and I've learned that you need to give them as much frontlight as possible in one color," says Foster. "The first thing I did when I was given this job was to watch the existing show and take notes on the dance actions. I guess I created a script which became my bible in the show and from which I programmed. Fortunately I've become very quick at programming shows with the aid of the fantastic Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® II desk. I've been using the Wholehogs for years and they are like an old pair of slippers for me! In all, the show took about 18 hours to program but the script was certainly my secret weapon."
With a young family at home, Foster is reluctant to tour for great lengths of time and on the Kylie tour his lighting director was Rob Gawler. Rob was already with the tour when Vince joined it and although this was of great help to Vince he admits he still likes to be in charge of the programming.
"I find it's easier just to do it yourself than to ask someone else, and I also like pushing the buttons!" he says. "I guess I'm just a techno-nerd at heart. It was such a fantastic show to look at, it really didn't need much more than lighting what was going on. The set is beautiful, the dancers are great, and then there's Kylie. I only had to light the action onstage. I think that's what was wrong with the first lighting design--it was too 'busky' with lots of flash buttons."
"I've really enjoyed this tour as everyone is always positive and happy," adds Gawler. "Vince has given me quite a free hand to modify things and update when necessary. I don't feel that I absolutely have to preserve the original content of the show. If things need changing in my opinion he's more than happy for me to do that. Some of the fixtures have changed along the way and have had to be updated. When we went to Europe we took a smaller system with us and so a lot of cues had to be rewritten."
The show opens with a pair of blue curtains drawing to reveal a black drape with a glittering "KM" logo on it. The kabuki drops to reveal the stage that is designed to resemble a huge sailing ship. Minogue makes a theatrical entrance on a giant mirror ball anchor that descends from the heavens. The first three songs are meant to be daylight and so the set is lit mostly in white light.
The first ballad of the show is meant to be nighttime and so the lights turn to shades of blue and purple. Color is not really introduced until the fifth song, when the set is turned into a disco (with a selection of mirror balls dropping in) and the black drapes close. A star cloth "Kylie" logo flashes in the background.
"It's quite kitsch-looking but the sudden introduction of color is a great effect," says Foster. "Kylie does all her 80s disco stuff which is followed by the Broadway segment. Kylie, who has changed into white tails and top hat, comes up through the stage on a white grand piano. The main lighting effect is a heart shape behind Kylie that came by accident. We were using a couple of Cyberlights® and one day I screwed up the focus, as they were meant to be pointing at Kylie. They were too far upstage but they made this perfect pink heart shape behind the grand piano and everyone loved it!"
After the first number, the drapes open to reveal a Broadway scene and a musical extravaganza continues for another four songs. Then the black drapes and star cloth return until the end of the show. The first encore has the set resembling a space setting. "We have a beautiful backdrop that is UV-sensitive and has panels in with strobes behind them," says Foster. "Kylie enters through a doorway in the backdrop dressed in white, as are the dancers, and is UV-lit."
Foster is a great High End fan although he would not have normally chosen to use Cyberlights. "They work fantastically but I prefer moving heads to mirrors because they allow me to shoot directly into the backdrop from the back truss. With Cyberlights you have to really think about the positioning of them and you've only got about 100º tilt and 140º pan. However, they've been fine. The Studio Colors are a great workhorse and you never get problems with them. I'm a great fan of the Studio Beam and, if I had my way, I would choose them throughout the entire show. They are very bright and have a brilliant frost on them."
The six Studio Spots® he is using are highly noticeable in the show as they are placed along the first level of the set. Foster admits that they would have looked better painted white but there was no time to do it. Given more time he would also have placed a few MR-16s into the set.
Special effects includes a confetti cannon, pyrotechnics, and a glitter bomb that explodes at the end of the show. Lightning strikes are achieved with a 65,000W strobe placed on the back truss between two Cyberlights. UV and a High End F-100™ fogger and two Reel EFX DF-50 hazers are also employed.
The lighting equipment in Australia was supplied by Bytecraft, although the color changers on the back truss were shipped over, as all of Bytecraft's stock was in use, and continuity of color was possible by using original strings.
"In the UK we were using Studio Spot 250s but here we're using Studio Spot 575s which are bigger and brighter," says Foster. "That's probably why they look more obtrusive but they are essential to the show as they add quite a lot of low backlight onto the dancers. Nobody seems to have minded them being placed where they are--least of all High End!"
The last sets of shows at the Sydney Entertainment Center were filmed for a television special to be aired the following week. Chameleon Touring Systems were contracted to supply the extra lighting required for filming and audience lighting. A total of 24 Martin Professional MAC 2000s and 72 Martin MAC 600s were used for audience lighting, while six Mole-Richardson Molefays and a few extra PAR cans provided some extra frontlight.
"I literally duplicated what was happening with the High End moving lights with the Martin lights," says Foster. "There's nothing worse than reverse shots from the stage showing huge amounts of black void. It's not the first time I've used the MAC 2000s, which are very impressive, and the MAC 600 is a good workhorse. All moving lights have different features and good points. The main thing is that they are all very reliable so I'm not too fussy about which I get."
Foster is enthusiastic about his experience on this tour. "I'm completely amazed at what a huge star Kylie is here in Australia. She's probably only second to Madonna. Whereas Kylie is the Princess of Pop, Madonna is the Queen. She is also the nicest person to work for and not at all a 'star.' She knows everybody's name and asks how they are and that's quite rare with a performer of her caliber. She has been a complete and utter diamond to work for, the most easy-going person. She's also a great professional--at one of the Melbourne shows she was really ill but she still did the show and you wouldn't have known just how sick she was. The crew has also been fantastic and it has been a real family experience. Usually toward the end of a tour everyone is sick of each other but not on this one."
Foster returned to the UK to design the Dido tour, a Duran Duran tour in Japan, the Party in the Park festival, and the Robot Wars TV series. "I used to do large world tours with Patrick Woodroffe but when my son was born three years ago I decided not to tour anymore," he says. "As a result I picked up a huge amount of clients. It's fantastic because now I can do 30 jobs a year as opposed to one job that lasts a year. Believe me, it's very refreshing! However I learned a lot from Patrick, more about the politics of touring than the actual lighting design--I'd say it's 70% of the game."
Photos: Alli MacGregor/Terry Blamey Management