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.
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 Alpha Profile 1200 and a City Theatrical Show DMX System for the production’s complex wireless dimming requirements.
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, including 18 Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 1200.
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. 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.”
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.”