For his final tour, Farewell Yellow Brick Road, which will consist of more than 300 shows across five continents, Elton John mustered a team of his trusted creative directors to help commemorate the end of this vibrant era in appropriate style: David Furnish, Tony King, Sam Pattinson, and Patrick Woodroffe. King and Pattinson led on video content, while Woodroffe handled lighting design. Stufish Entertainment Architects designed the stage, with engineering, build, and automation by TAIT. Read Part One.
Past designs for “Philadelphia Freedom” often included American stars and stripes, but the team wanted to create something fresh. “Elton was the first white solo artist ever to appear on Soul Train so Sam and I kept that in mind and decided to do another dance piece to celebrate that fact,” says King.
“We found this great young director called Sammy Rawal based in Toronto, and he shoots very contemporary, mostly dance, content,” explains Pattinson. “Great palettes, pastels, very colorful. So we commissioned him to create a new take of ‘Philadelphia Freedom,’ which was shot in Brooklyn. It had a party atmosphere to it, but wasn’t overly choreographed, with a group of great dancers who had different styles.”
"Philadelphia Freedom." Photo by Noah Campeau, Treatment Studio
For “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” the team worked with artwork from earlier in John’s career, including art from his ninth studio album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, illustrated by British pop artist Alan Aldridge. “We were given loads of characters to work with and create a story to go with the song,” says Pattinson. “We collaborated with director Lisa Wrake, and she animated the characters in their world and created a really wonderful narrative to go with the song.”
Each song has its own significance. “When you take ‘Border Song’ for example,” says King, “it is a tribute to all the people Elton admires, and they are not necessarily a list of people his fans would know. But it doesn’t matter because to Elton they are important.” Montages of Aretha Franklin, Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking, John’s grandmother Ivy Sewell, and more play across the screen during the song.
Another emotional moment in the show is “Believe.” The song celebrates Elton John AIDS Foundation, which he founded in 1992 after his young friend Ryan White, who was infected with HIV by a blood transfusion, died in 1990; the charity has since raised over $400 million to support work in 55 countries.
“‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me’ is always a touching moment for Elton because that is a song his audience really loves, and it really lifts the show to another level,” says King. “All in all, the show is a roller coaster of all different kinds of emotions.”
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." Photo by Noah Campeau, Treatment Studio.
The grand finale of the show is the biggest tear-jerker of them all. It begins with a solo of the beloved “Your Song” until the band joins John halfway through, transitioning into “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” the song for which his seventh studio album is named, and which itself sold 30 million copies worldwide. Scenes from Elton John’s life play out within the golden portal, showing his evolution as both performer and person over the years. The piano riser slowly tracks across the stage as the closing notes resound. Finally, the pop culture icon steps onto a platform, leaving behind his cherished piano and his career upon the stage, as the riser brings him to a door through which he steps onto the yellow brick road laid out before him on the screen.
“This scene is not an animation,” explains King. “It is actually him. Sam took the great trouble to go down to Elton’s house, in his gallery, and do this walk down the yellow brick road, which took us quite a few hours to do but turned out wonderfully.” The crowd disperses as Elton John walks into the sunset of his amazing career.
The tour launched on September 8 at PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and will conclude in 2021. “After the first couple of shows, I made a point of talking to the fans as they left,” says King. “It was amazing how many people said they cried. The people said it was such a beautiful show, and it left them in tears because they realized it was a farewell show. So I guess, job well done.”
Creative Direction: David Furnish, Tony King, Sam Pattinson, Patrick Woodroffe
Video Design: Treatment Studio - www.treatmentstudio.com
Video Production Company: Treatment Studio
Executive Producer: Sam Pattinson
Producer: Lizzie Pocock
Animation Team: Kooch Chung, Susana Yamamoto, Dave Shepherd, Brad Purnell, Ronnie Deelen, Gareth Blayney, Mark Hough, Chris Cousins, Sam Brickman, Terry Scruby, Simon Russell, Alex Eckford, Rosalvo Melo, Catherine Woodhouse, Noah Campeau
Editor: Warren Chapman
Production Manager: Helen Campbell for Treatment Studio
Researcher and archivist: Matthew Sanger
Production Assistants: Sam Brickman and George Stone
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”: Lisa Wrake [Original illustrations by Alan Aldridge]
“Border Song”: Joseph Guay
“Believe”: Steve Sawalich
“The Bitch Is Back”: Steve Corfe, World of Wonder
“Candle In The Wind”: David LaChapelle
“Daniel”: David LaChapelle
“Tiny Dancer”: Max Weilland
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”: Photography courtesy of Martin Parr
“Philadelphia Freedom”: Sammy Rawal
“Bennie and the Jets”: Illustrations by Richard Killroy
“Shoot Producers”: Giles Maunsell and Matt Cummings
“Director of Photography”: Matt North