The very final leg of Barry Manilow’s One Last Time farewell tour saw the legendary singer play arenas in nine cities across the UK, culminating in a show stopping performance at London’s O2, with lighting equipment and crew supplied by Blackburn based HSL.
Manilow’s long term Creative Director Seth Jackson designed and specified the rig as part of an elegant and stylish design to help ensure the star’s incredible live touring performances would stay with his enthusiastic fan-base as this seminal ‘touring’ element of his career comes to an end. Manilow is one of the most prolific and successful singer/songwriters and producers in the world with over 80 million records sold. He’s also among the best-selling artists of all time, responsible for classics like Mandy, I Can’t Smile Without You, Copacabana and numerous others.
The final tour lasted over 18 month and encompassed 80 shows across all continents. The UK section of this was project managed on the road for HSL by Lester Cobrin and back at base in Blackburn by Sean McGlone, with Cobrin liaising directly with Jackson and Lighting Director Nathan Alves. Right at the core of the lighting design was a straightforward principal, “one man in a spotlight.”
Backed by a ten piece band and three singers, as Jackson explained: “The show is essentially about Manilow and his VERY loyal fans, and about saying goodbye with a highly personal show so hit laden. It is almost overwhelming!”
The idea was to present a production design with clean uncomplicated lines that was warm and inviting and almost the antithesis of a ’concert’ aesthetic. This meant no visible metalwork, no truss layering, no in-the-face video, etc. although Jackson reckoned that they may well have purchased every last piece of red velour draping available on both sides of the Atlantic!
With Manilow right at the heart of the show, a rear spot was required to create fabulous backlight and a front spot to illuminate his face for the legions of fans. Beyond that, the rig was relatively expedient. The workhorses of the show were Robe BMFL Spots. Jackson reckoned he could not have used this few hard-edged instruments without the, “incredible flexibility of the BMFL,” which gave him an amazing tight beam one minute and a perfect gobo reaching across the stage the next. He also loved their incredible brightness. He used Vari-Lite VL3500 spots to frame the band with side lighting, and Clay Paky a.leda K20’s with B-EYE lenses for colour washes and effects lighting, the latter using the prisms and rotating lenses for serious aerial impact, especially as backlight behind the band coming from below.
A few more VL3500’s were dotted around out front for key light and finally a slew of Robe LEDBeam 100’s on the downstage truss toned some of the drapes and were also great for wide, expansive beam looks.
The show was run on a MA Lighting grandMA2 console, with Nate Alves doing the majority of the operating and Jason Workman doing a couple of stints. Manilow then insisted Jackson took the helm for the last run; finish what he started, which he was hugely excited to do after about five years. Admittedly a little rusty for the first night, he soon settled into his stride and really enjoyed delivering a fabulous and highly memorable show.
At times Jackson was let it loose, but for the most part the show was kept clean and precise. Transitions between songs were crafted, not just a standard blue wash, “Barry has many moments with specific blocking, and multiple opportunities to use theatre-craft rather than everything at full,” confirmed Jackson.
Challenges included limiting the inventory as they did, which meant that what every light was doing and what it was needed for next had to be considered. “We could not just turn the big wash on as we didn’t have one!” The other galvanising factor was Manilow himself! Every day there is a new set list and the tech teams are expected to keep one step ahead of him at all times. Of the 25 or so songs performed each night, Jackson had cues ready for at least 30 more!
It was actually the first time that Jackson had worked with HSL although his relationship with Cobrin goes back several years and he commented: “It is a marvellous company.” He was looked after on the road by HSL’s crew of Steve Sinclair, Richard Griffin and Paul Makin, and adds that Nate Alves was absolutely instrumental to the whole tour taking shape and running as smoothly as it did worldwide.
“Nate’s so much more than a programmer and being a designer himself and with our long history together we barely need to speak to communicate an idea and go ahead and achieve it.” Alves has had a bit more experience working with HSL over about the last seven years, and was delighted when the UK tour came up and they won the pitch. “The quality of prep and attention to detail throughout the gig on every job HSL has serviced for me has been of the highest level. As a designer / director who bounces between a few clients a year and doesn’t have a lot of lead time to get a show up and running it’s a blessing to have a group of individuals looking after you who really care about the project as deeply as you and are willing to always go the extra mile to see a job done right. I couldn’t imagine going across the pond now, without meeting them on the other side.”