Resurrecting Jesus Christ Superstar


London's Lyceum Theatre, restored to its original Victorian-era splendor after a $23 million refurbishment, has reopened with The Really Useful Group's revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's first musical hit, Jesus Christ Superstar. John Napier's set design, based on an ancient open-air theatre in Judea, allows for 80 audience members to be seated in the set itself, in tiers around the back wall. Combined with David Hersey's lighting design, this gives the show an elemental atmosphere that evokes earth, fire, air, and water.

The elements were against the LD: Hersey had to enclose lights in plastic bags during load-in, "as extensive finishing work spread cement dust everywhere. Also, house lights were either not yet working or no one knew where to turn them on or off, something made worse by there being people busy all over the building who still needed light to work by."

Water appears as gently drizzling rain falls upon the crucified Jesus; fire emerges from some 14 gas-fueled flares that encircle the central performance area. Howard Eaton Lighting Ltd. installed a natural gas ring main below the stage (plus essential safety interlocks and monitoring equipment), and developed a glass-floored water-collecting device. Light shines up from beneath, illuminating the cross.

Lighting from beneath the stage and from a large custom-made grid above is augmented by sidelighting in and around the scaffolding and also from a bridge upstage of the proscenium. There is no frontlighting rigged from the circular setting-a departure for Hersey, and one he's proud of. "We started off with several dozen lamps out there, but because we didn't want the show to look at all high tech I've been able to tuck them away in the side," he says.

Shade and tinting combined with the dry, dusty finish of the set produce an almost monochromatic look. The system, supplied by White Light, comprises 175 ETC Source Four profiles and 30 Source Four PARs, plus 80 PAR-64s and a profusion of 1.5kW floods.

Below stage, 30 Alto PCs ring the mound of the crucifix, while another six shine up from immediately beneath it. "We tried all sorts of PCs," says Hersey. "The Alto gave the best and most coherent light." All are rigged horizontally and use beam diverters to deflect their light vertically upwards, to protect the color scrollers fitted to them. The six beneath the cross are so tightly spaced that small Chroma-Q scrollers from AC Lighting, rather than Rainbow scrollers, are used.

Automated lights include 17 of Hersey's new Digital Beam Lights and 10 Vari*Lite(R) VL5s. "The two types of lamp are completely complementary, giving a wash and pool; they are not interchangeable," Hersey says. There are also six Robert Juliat followspots, two 2.5kWs, four 1.2kWs, and a Juliat 2.5kW profile directly above the cross that produces an intense circle of light. The LD also employs two Pani projectors as lighting effects down on the circular stage. "With some masks and tints for accent, I've got seven combinations that let me hold the performance area together."

With such powerful lights focused on the central area, only a Lightning Strikes unit would suffice for the finale. "It was inescapable I'd use it," Hersey says, though, characteristically, he persuaded its manufacturers back in Los Angeles to modify a firing card so a single flash can be sustained for almost three seconds.