Sir Elton John is widely recognized as one of the world’s preeminent performers. His latest stage show, The Red Piano, has been playing to sold-out houses in The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV. And now, his stage show is coming to a homes nationwide; The Red Piano will an air on NBC in November 2005, during the fall “sweeps” week, with a DVD release date to follow.

With a lighting package supplied by Cinelease, Inc., the video production team included director David Mallett, who also directed television specials for U2, Queen, Janet Jackson, and Cher; LD Jerry Watson; and lighting programmer Craig Caserta.

Together with world-renowned photographer David LaChapelle, Elton John has created The Red Piano, which takes audiences inside Elton’s world. LaChapelle created a dreamscape montage culled from rich imagery of Hollywood and Las Vegas icons, on a large surround, semi-circle LED screen displays, that plays in sync with the various songs that are being performed. Shot with 16 cameras, and with a live sold-out audience, the stage setup for The Red Piano NBC concert has Elton seated center stage with his five band members around him.

The Colosseum currently houses two full-scale Vegas productions, The Red Piano and Celine Dion’s A New Day. The productions run concurrently, alternating performance dates and times. The lighting designs for both productions were developed for live performances, and not necessarily for shooting video. Therefore, lighting designer Watson had to load-in a supplemented lighting rig and work around the existing parameters of both productions.

“In choosing the automated lights to use on the supplemented rig, having color mixing plus zoom control is invaluable, and you can’t beat a good shutter fixture for television,” says Watson. “We needed nice, level close-ups on Elton that would allow him to look terrific, and then we needed to give the same texture and tone to the stage that was on the enormous screen behind him…. We also had to match the already determined color palette from the existing show.”

The complete automated luminaire portion of the lighting rig consisted of 30 VARI*LITE VL2500™ spot luminaires (stage lighting), 12 VL2000™ spot luminaires (audience, back, and architectural lighting), 12 VL3500™ spot luminaires (stage, audience, and back lighting), and 10 VL2000™ wash luminaires.

Watson had two days to load-in the supplemented rig, get it focused, and then allow Caserta time to program the automated luminaires. On the night of the second day, they did a live rehearsal in front of a paying audience, with the television shoot taking place the next night. Watson chose carefully which luminaires he went on the rig. Any problem that arose in a light fixture would slow both he and Caserta down, possibly causing the DVD shoot to be delayed, which was not an option.

“From a programmers point of view, using the VARI*LITE fixtures made my life very easy for a few reasons,” explains Caserta. “The fixtures were never down so I was able to program uninterrupted from start to finish. The color mixing and the static colors all matched so I didn't have to spend a lot of time making the colors match, and the same goes for the gobos.”

As the main focus light for the DVD shoot, Watson chose the VL3500™ spot luminaire. With a 1200W short arc lamp, the VL3500 spot maintains high standards for imagery, beam control, color and brightness, while adding a four-blade shutter mechanism that allows the blades to be operated independently or in unison on two planes for a clear and crisp image. “The VL3500 is outstanding. I stuck it straight up for the architecture lighting, and then shuttered off portions of the venue to make custom cuts,” says Watson. “I can’t stress how invaluable the VL3500 spot is…. It’s the end all, be all, light for me.”

Caserta adds, “The shutters in the VL3500 spot are very accurate and repeatable and allowed a lot of flexibility when shaping for set pieces and when the cue was executed. I didn't have to worry if the shutters would be right, they always were. The speed of the fixtures matched very well so I didn't have to use multiple timings to make everything move together as a whole.”

Watson concludes, “The DVD shoot went excellent. Once the gear was up in the air, it became an easy show.”