The moon and the star


PATRICK WOODROFFE CREATES A LUNAR LANDSCAPE FOR SARAH BRIGHTMAN La Luna, the latest Sarah Brightman tour, is one of those hard-to-categorize shows that comes along every so often. The best aspects of theatre, modern opera, and the concert industry come together to create a show unified by color and theme.

La Luna, which began in Ottawa last September, was put together by the team that worked on Brightman's Eden tour in 1999. "I got involved through Olaf Shroeter, the producer of the show," explains lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe, a recent LDI Award winner for his career achievements. Shroeter asked the LD for his input on the rest of the creative team, and Woodroffe immediately recommended scenic designer Johan Engels. "He is a wonderful modern opera designer who is very successful, but had never done anything remotely like a rock concert before," Woodroffe comments. Also onboard the Eden tour was choreographer Micha Bergase and lighting director Eneas MacIntosh. When it came time for La Luna, Shroeter brought back the same team.

The inspiration for the show was simple. "La Luna is based on a rather ethereal lunar theme," remarks Woodroffe. The main scenic element for the show is a 2m-wide (7') moon, which is actually a light box, fabricated by Brilliant Stages in England. (Brilliant Stages also supplied the stage thrust, upstage walkway, scenic flats, and rolling steps, which make up the set.) The moon sets the tone for the production, and appears in different incarnations throughout the show. "At the start, we used a fluorescent light source in the moon, but we couldn't dim it enough," the LD explains, "so we ended up going with a warmer tungsten source, which still looks quite nice."

Thematically, the moon links Brightman's material, which ranges from pop to opera. "The moon is quite lovely, and the tungsten light is the one thing that cuts through the blue in the background," Woodroffe says.

Working in harmony with the moon is the color scheme, which, for the most part, explores the nuances of the cooler shades. "The only idea they had going into production was fairly obvious - that it would be done in lots of different shades of blue and white," he notes. His palette is filled with a spectacular array of blues that move with the show, rather than dominate it.

"It's a relatively static show," says the LD. "The changes, particularly in the first half which features all of the operatic numbers, are actually quite subtle." But the show does not lack visual interest. "If you make those subtle changes, you're able to take the audience to another level," he explains. The show is also in a constant state of evolution, and changes slightly every night. "I feel the show is organic and has to grow," comments MacIntosh. "I like some of the modifications, and therefore I keep them; others I discard."

Woodroffe's color palette does stray several times, most notably during "Scarborough Fair," in the first half, and the Phantom of the Opera segment in the second. "'Scarborough Fair' was supposed to be soft and green-dappled sunlight, a rather bucolic scene, which works," Woodroffe notes. The most singularly stunning moment comes during the Phantom of the Opera suite, when the moon disappears and the stage is drowned in intense red light. "It's very rich and decadent, and suggests a big opera curtain." Overall, La Luna is more visually reminiscent of an opera than a concert: "We didn't want to make the show soft and Vegas and pop-looking," he adds.

For La Luna, Woodroffe and his team used a variety of equipment, most notably Coemar CF7 HEs and High End Systems Studio Beams[TM]. "We used the CF7s as our main moving instruments," the LD comments. "It's a new light, it was interesting to try it, and it's always nice to try something new. Of course, I haven't really given them a good thrashing like you would with a big rock show, but they did well, and worked well with the Studio Beams," Woodroffe adds. "I've used the Studio Beams a few times. They're smaller than the Studio Colors[R], and I particularly like the beam characteristics."

The show also uses a plethora of PAR-64s. "We used PAR washes to light the midstage orchestra and some of the apron," notes Woodroffe. La Luna also features a half-dozen Wildfire blacklights, used in "Figlio Perduta," which marries UV tones and hues of purple under a starry, moonlight sky.

The show also features two truss spots operated by crew electricians. "It's a very delicate show, and you can't afford to have anything less than perfect pickups," the LD explains. "Once Sarah's in her set position in the middle, she's completely illuminated by specials." To bring Brightman out of the set, Woodroffe relied solely on his automated fixtures. "We use a CF7 special from the front, cantilevered out on a pole, with a pair of Studio Beams at a slightly different angle. The CF7 takes away some of the shadow on her face, and it also punches her right out of the middle of this very symmetrical set."

The LD uses his floor units rather sparingly. "Because the stage thrusts out quite a lot, we really didn't use the floor units that much," he notes. "It's a lovely way to bring out the dancers, but unfortunately the beams go straight past them and into the audience on the other side, blinding them, so I can't really use them too much," Woodroffe adds. The most stunning use of floor units comes at the end of the first act, when Brightman appears engulfed in a giant red cape. "I have a nice grouping of CF7s upstage center on the floor, which does a nice silhouette look."

One of the most surprising moments in the show comes at the opening of the second act, when Brightman and two male dancers, who are behind a thin layer of gauze, fly over the stage. This enchanting number was a bit of a challenge for the LD, who couldn't rely on his truss spots.

"When she flies, we couldn't use the truss spots to pick her up because the residual light that doesn't hit them goes into the gauze in front and looks ugly," he explains. The gauze then opens, revealing the flying trio. "We ended up doing the flying sequence with a series of quite complicated cues, with specials that pick her up at different times throughout the sequence. It's a tricky thing to light her brightly enough to be seen, but not so much that the wires are visible - Eneas actually tracks her live with the floor lights to pull this off."

The La Luna tour concluded in mid-December in Warsaw, though there is talk of extending it further this year. "At its best, this show has a seamless quality in which every element is used with great elegance," says Woodroffe. "It doesn't use a lot of light - I think it's enough to paint specific pictures for each of the songs, and for that, I think it was quite a success."