Long and Winding Road
Scenic designer/production manager Scott Christensen has been involved with the show for over six years, when it became partnered with Annerin Productions. At Annerin, Christensen has worked with the ABBA tribute group Björn Again and recently with The Pink Floyd Experience and Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience. He says that prior to teaming up with Annerin, the Rain tribute band members "were essentially doing cruise ships, casinos and corporate gigs, and the promoter on our end decided to bring it up to Calgary (Canada). A couple of shows in Calgary and Edmonton did extremely well, and we formed this partnership." Then they took Rain to the next level.
The "Fab Four" of Rain, along with their keyboard player, certainly know how to get an audience going. Broadway audiences have been enthralled by the show, which features numerous set changes and a variety of songs from throughout the famed British quartet's career, including music they never played live. Joey Curatolo, who plays Paul McCartney, has the jovial bassist's persona and mannerisms down pat, and the colorful costume changes, set pieces and video imagery powerfully enhance the experience. Being the first time on Broadway for Rain, the group has had the chance to expand their visual component greatly.
"We've always had the video aspect of the show, and going to more of a sit-down Broadway position as opposed to touring gave us the ability to dress up the stage a little bit more," explains Christensen. "We have a lot of the video that sets the mood and what we're trying to portray in the era that we're in at that moment in the show, and we decided to build the scenic elements to enhance that. We do travel on tour with the Ed Sullivan set, and then the bulk of it is on video. We also have some brick walls that we use on the tour that sets the mood for Abbey Road later in the show. The touring show is mostly lighting, video and costumes."
Help from My Friends
The visual team behind Rain includes scenic designers Christensen and Todd Skinner, lighting designer Stephan Gotschal and video designers Darren McCaulley and Mathieu St-Arnaud. "Todd Skinner owns Production Canada, where a lot of this was built, and we worked on designing everything and what would work," says Christensen. "The band have a very large say in it. A lot of it was built out of his shop. For the video design, there was Mathieu and Darren. Darren had done a lot of stuff, and just recently Mathieu has become involved and brought a lot of different aspects to the show. He comes from much more of a rock world. And Stefan Gotschal has been with the show for at least for five years."
When Christensen was first speaking to people on Broadway about Rain, he felt that many of them were trying to think of it conventional terms and "put in into the box of a Broadway theater show, which it is not. I described it as a concert presented in a theatrical fashion, because the story is obviously the music. It's five guys playing Beatles music, and they're amazing musicians. We started talking to one company about a lot of the scenic ideas we had, and they wanted to change the stage and move around in a similar way to Jersey Boys, but you can't do that with these guys because they're really playing. They're amazing, world-class musicians, and you can't take a guitar player and his rig and change it three times in a show, so you have the band's set and dress around that accordingly. We start the show and all the risers are dressed in black, and in the second half we pull the black off and they become white. It's just a little bit of a different look to it."
The designer admits that the Neil Simon Theatre is the tightest space that Rain was ever performed in. Even the month-long sit-down they did in Toronto last July at the Canon Theatre was bigger. Beyond the musicians and sets, the gear also takes up space. "There are 16 to 18 guitars, so there are a lot of guitar changes," notes Christensen. "We have an actual monitor desk position on stage for a sound console stage left. The risers roll on and off, and then there are the quick change areas."
Set Changes and Lighting
"The challenge for us in building this stuff is a lot of it flies in and out, but the light show is much more rock oriented," he adds. "So finding a space for everything to come in and out depth-wise was a little bit of challenge, especially at the Neil Simon, because the wings are not very big. Everything is in the air, other than the palm trees that roll on and off, and the four arrows for Ed Sullivan are just simple flats held up by stands. The Abbey Road set piece and the brick building just roll off in the wings, but it pretty much fills the stage right wing. There is only 12 feet over there. Stage left is where all the space is."
One interesting aspect is that the drumheads change throughout the show. "I've had people ask how we change the drum kit so fast, where all we've all done is created a false drumhead that attaches over the real skin," reveals Christensen. "So we start with the classic Rain Ludwig clear drumhead, and then with Sgt. Pepper's we have that logo on there, then the All You Need Is Love logo, and then the plain red head for Abbey Road. There is more going on than people think sometimes."
Rain traverses several periods of Beatles history, starting with their Ed Sullivan appearance, then moving through A Hard Day's Night, the Shea Stadium concert, Sgt. Pepper's, All You Need Is Love, then finally Abbey Road, which includes their famed rooftop appearance in London. Each segment spotlights signature elements. The show opens with the group playing behind a curtain-length scrim, onto which is projected the image of a television to make it seem like the audience is watching them on a gi-normous screen showing The Ed Sullivan Show. The scrim then raises and the band appears fully lit.
Black and White to Color
During the Hard Day's Night segment, video images behind the group and on the two large video screens mounted above the audience at stage left and right feature animation inspired by sequences in the film where the band is being chased endlessly by crazed fans. During the Shea Stadium recreation, police barricades appear on stage, and strobe lights induce both the effect of stadium lighting and the thousands of camera flash bulbs that were popping throughout their performance.
The Sgt. Pepper's section features an "explosion of color that tries to take a lot off of the album cover," says Christensen. "We've got a lot of flowers and the palm trees in the back. Lighting-wise we added a lot of color, but video was from the movies and capturing the theme of the albums." Conversely, All You Need Is Love "is a pretty simple setup. We just brought in some flats with a little bit of color, but we also took a lot from the broadcast that they did back in 1967, back in the peace and hippie end of things. There are a lot of different signs in different languages [with slogans] like ‘give peace a chance.' We took a lot of images from back then and replicated them on the wall. Then we go from there right into Abbey Road, which is the final segment. That's the biggest thing we built, replicating Abbey Road on stage right with the building and the lightpost on the street and the other brick building on the other side."
Christensen declares that bringing in the extra scenic elements "adds such a huge dimension, and then tying it in with the video. When you see where we take images from the world, we do the Google effect where we go down into Abbey Road, which sucks you right into that image." That sequence was also new for Broadway.
Video Content - Not I-Mag - Is King
Video is a crucial element to Rain: a Tribute To the Beatles On Broadway, especially with the two giant screens situated on each side of the stage. Ninety-eight percent of Rain's video content is on a media server, which is triggered via the lighting console. Live cameras and video content are triggered via DMX through an MA Lighting grandMA console, and the video content is stored on Vixen Media servers. Between set changes, vintage performance clips and commercials (like a banned Flintstones ad for Winston cigarettes) are shown to entertain the audience and maintain the show's 1960s vibe.
Beyond the four video screens employed in the production - the two side screens that frame the stage downstage of the main curtain, the one center screen upstage behind the drummer and the occasional one downstage on a scrim - there are four projectors placed in the house on the balcony rail. "The upstage center projectors are mounted on a downstage pipe projecting upstage to a white cyc video screen," says Christensen. "The downstage scrim is just upstage up the main curtain. These projectors are stacked on the balcony rail as well." There are six robo cams controlled by a human operator during the production; three on the front of house balcony rail and three on stage.
Throughout Rain, the band is shot performing in black-and-white. During the closing of the show, color images of the audience are intercut with the band's performance. Christensen adds that some live audience shots are snuck into the Ed Sullivan footage at the start of the show. "We project them into black and white, and a lot of people don't clue into it." Many people do not realize that the live shots of the Beatles on screen are actually the performances going on in Rain. "They don't realize that they are live cameras. Then taking the video screens and building the TV fronts around them really set the mood for back in the period. Obviously that's how most people saw the Beatles, on TV. For a lot of people it takes them back to that time in history. It was so loud and pure pandemonium back then that we can't quite re-create that per se, but it [the video component] definitely takes people back in time."
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