When the West End production of the multi-award-winning stage musical Hairspray embarked on a UK tour last spring, it did so with the confidence of picking up the full houses it had enjoyed at the Shaftesbury Theatre in a two-and-a-half-year run of over 1,000 performances.
Already adorned with the original Broadway production's clutch of eight Tony Awards, the West End opening had collected a record 11 Olivier Award nominations, winning four including Best Musical. The tour has likewise proved a smash hit, selling out around the UK and having its run extended until December 2010.
Stage Electrics, lighting suppliers to the West End show, were tasked with adapting the show for the road, under project manager Mark Burnett. The production team was headed by Rich Blacksell, production manager for Stage Entertainment, UK associate lighting designer Alistair Grant (original lighting design by Ken Posner), production LX Stephen Reeve, touring chief electrician Lee Jones, touring deputy chief electrician Chris Tidmarsh, programmer John Harris and chief rigger Danny Spratt.
Hairspray is based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters, with a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. The tour sees Michael Ball return as Edna Turnbull, sharing the role with West End counterpart Brian Conley, while Les Dennis plays the part of Wilbur.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Designed around two to three week residences, the overarching production premise was a lighting rig that would fit virtually every house without alteration, with a large overhead grid flying in on pre-rig trusses and employing solely moving lights to obviate the need for Tallescope use. Ironically, the tour's second venue, Glasgow's Clyde Auditorium, lacked the necessary points and the rig was flown from hoist motors.
Stage Electrics invested in several key components for the tour, in particular 15 Clay Paky 1200 HPE Profiles and a City Theatrical Show DMX System for the production's complex wireless dimming requirements.
The technical adaptation began to take shape as UK associate LD Alistair Grant and lighting programmer John Harris, spent three days in the company's London demo room with parts of the rig migrating the show from an ETC Obsession 2 console to the touring Whole Hog 2 System - a Whole Hog 2 console backed up by a Whole Hog PC.
The control system also includes a Whole Hog IPC console to run the complex 'Lite Brite Wall', built by Howard Eaton Lighting for the tour with 542 RGB LED sources, driven from a Hog IPC and based on the original Broadway production.
Stage Electrics' control team custom-built two lighting control racks for the tour, providing a plug-and-play setup for the LX team to save time during the moves.
The FOH rack houses the two Hog PC backup desks and a KVM switching unit for the complete system. The on-stage rack houses 10 DMX splitters for the main lighting rig and the 'Lite Brite Wall'. Both racks are connected via a new Control Loom - another Stage Electrics investment - a Proplex Sneak Snake which enables four streams of Ethercon for 16 DMX universes to be run down a single 100m cable.
In a key departure from the West End design, the large overhead rig was shorn of its ETC Source 4s and replaced entirely with moving lights - a mixture of 18 Clay Paky 1200 HPE Spots, eight Martin Mac 2000 Performance and 12 Mac 600 NT Wash luminaires, two Vari*Lite VL2000 Spot and 17 VL2000 Wash lights.
Alistair Grant explains: "What I had to do was decimate the conventional lighting rig and make the moving light rig work harder to maintain the show, but it's fair to say that it would take a trained eye to see the difference between what's on the road in the UK and the West End show."
"There's a substantial set, but the lighting rig works quite hard to create different locations and areas, as well as doing flash-and-trash during some of the numbers. The overhead rig is in pre-rig trusses travelling on dollies, and I intentionally used no conventionals in the overhead rig so there'd be nothing to focus during the day; everything's done from the desk. The London front of house rig was also substantially reduced to be achievable in every venue: for example, I cut 30-odd lights from the circle front, and I've now got four Mac 2000 Performers doing that job, all to the end of keeping the same show, but achieving it in a two-day load-in and rig. Despite being movers all the overhead lights have just one focus and change colour. The final trim was reducing from two to three follow spots so the operators have to work quite hard to cover all the cues," comments Grant, adding: "I was very well served by Stage Electrics, Mark Burnett and the team."
Source 4 Profiles proliferate elsewhere, with some 122 Source 4 Profiles on the front of house rig and the majority on ladders on stage. Others light a scenic piece with backlit rear projection panels via mirrors due to space restrictions in the grid. 63 Rainbow 6" and 8" Colour Scrollers and 10 custom lighting towers and rovers manufactured in-house by Stage Electrics' manufacturing department, complete the rig.
Lee Jones says: "When we move to each venue we do the relights and so on; the generic focuses for every move. We're touring three ART 2000 dimmers which we don't need to repatch, apart from FOH which needs a soft repatch, as we tie in to each theatre's dimmers for FOH. There aren't that many shows out there like this!"
Rich Blacksell adds: "Stage Electrics were into putting a good tourable system together, and part of the reason they got it was that we were very happy with what they did on Hairspray in town: all in all, it was a very smooth production period. Between their team and our production LXs and riggers, we put together probably one of the most tourable setups for a show on that scale, even though it was effectively starting from scratch. And because it's all touring on pre-rig trusses, we're literally turning up, plugging it in and flying it out. They've done a good job; we've worked with them on a number of West End shows and tours and we're happy to continue the relationship."