To make summer show pop, Rockettes turn to light wizards
NEW YORK — Madonna has turned to them for a little stage magic. So have Muse and Nine Inch Nails. In search of their own visual bang, companies as different as Chevy, Cirque du Soleil, Royal Caribbean and Oakley have sought them out.
Now the Canadian-based multimedia production studio Moment Factory faces one of its biggest tests: Its new canvas is literally the largest indoor theater in the world.
Producers behind The Radio City Rockettes’ big summer show at the 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall have turned to the group to create jaw-dropping visuals that spill out far past the 100-foot-wide stage.
They’ve responded with a heady mix of high-definition photos, bright animation, 3-D elements, live-action footage and complex LED sequences. They doubled the number of the venue’s digital projectors to 22.
“Our approach is always: How can we meld the virtual world with the real world?” said Henry Hilge, multimedia director at Moment Factory. “How can we make it immersive on these multiple levels?”
The show: “The New York Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes,” written by Douglas Carter Beane and directed by Mia Michaels, will focus on a pair of siblings visiting New York with their family who get separated from mom and dad.
The youngsters try to find them, with the help of the city’s various statues, including the Wall Street bull, the pair of lions protecting the New York Public Library and the George M. Cohan statue in Times Square. The Rockettes will play a sort of dancing chorus.
Moment Factory was tasked with making the famous city sites come to life on multiple moving screens and even massive chunks of the theater’s walls and ceiling. Few jobs compare.
“Here we’re talking about almost 90 minutes of full content production. It never ends. The screens are on all the time. The length we’re dealing with is totally different,” said Hilge. “It’s way more.”
Many changes: The show has been completely revamped from last year’s spring spectacular at Radio City. Some elements of that show — including a 26-foot-tall animatronic puppet of the Statue of Liberty and the Rockettes wearing LED jackets — will return.
But even a few minutes spent watching the multimedia planned for the new show indicates that much has changed from that often overstuffed, unfocused show.
A scene set in Grand Central Station includes gorgeous images of sun streaming though the station’s huge windows and its famous zodiac mural spilling onto the Radio City ceiling.
An actor portraying the terminal’s statue Mercury, god of travel and commerce, comes down to help the young boy, and soon stardust and clouds crash through the windows. Soon, he’s rocketing through the Milky Way in a breathtaking sequence.
If the last show was superclean in 3-D, Hilge chose a more artistic, surreal approach. “We went into another direction because I think it’s a Moment Factory approach to treat things more poetic, in a way.”
The show will feature pop songs like Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” and also classic tunes like “New York, New York.” Tony Award-nominee Emilio Sosa did the costumes, Tony-winner Steve Kennedy did sound design and Alain Lortie was in charge of lighting.
Take home: One thing Moment Factory has imported from designing live concert experiences is something fans at Radio City can take home: Hundreds of tiny lights attached to little wings — resembling the maple seedpods that flutter down in fall — will be dropped from the rafters like butterflies.
“This is where Radio City gains from our experience. This is a technique that they may not be aware of but we can bring our vision into the show,” said Hilge.