Vari-Lite Goes On A Wicked Ride
Published Thursday, June 16, 2005
by Bryan Matthews

A long-running Broadway tour has many destinations along the way. The continuous loading and unloading of gear is a time-consuming operation that can exact a harsh toll. In order for the tour to run smoothly and be a success, the equipment must be durable and strong. On the current Broadway national tour of Wicked, VARI*LITE® is along for the ride and is doing fine.

"I was very happy when I heard that Wicked was going to be an all VARI*LITE® automated rig," says Brendan Quigley, head electrician for the Wicked national tour. "I have a lot of respect for the VARI*LITE® products, they are great, solid products."

Traveling with Wicked are 75 VARI*LITE® fixtures consisting of 34 VL2000™ spot luminaires, 24 VL2000™ wash luminaires, and 17 VL3000™ spot luminaires. The light rig was increased by 20 VARI*LITE® fixtures from the Broadway production to the tour.

The lighting design of Wicked was developed to achieve an "oz-ian" effect. It was made to be a world of the supernatural that transports the audience to a time unseen. "I chose VARI*LITE® fixtures for the design of Wicked because of the large number of pattern options and the colors, especially the warm pastel range," stated Kenneth Posner, lighting designer for Wicked. "The color of the set is actually gray and earth toned. All the color you see the scenery bathed in comes from lighting."

As the Wicked touring company left New York City and headed to Toronto, Canada, it traveled in 14 fully loaded semi-trucks. Traveling in these trucks can cause mechanical breakdowns in lighting fixtures that will delay the set-up and performance, but Quigley tells, "All the VARI*LITE® fixtures actually travel still connected to the Tomcat truss with only a motorcycle helmet strap to secure them. I have been with the Wicked production since day one, and have yet to repair a VL2000™ wash luminaire. And the VL3000™ spot luminaire is fabulous. It’s quiet, repeatable, easily repairable in the air, and honestly the best light that Vari-Lite has ever made. It easily sets itself apart from the other lights on the market."

When the trucks arrive at their destination, the lighting crew is given a limited amount of time to unload the equipment, get it in the air, and then complete the focus. Time is not an abundant commodity, and the gear has to be able to respond.

"We generally arrive on a Tuesday in the morning and start to load-in for a Wednesday evening performance," says Quigley. "The specials play a big key to the show, and after travel they are almost spot-on when the lights get fired up. I can get the 3 overhead electrics up in the air in 45 minutes, and I can get the [side light] ladders up in less than an hour. So I get to concentrate on the front of house fixture focus, as these units are in different places for every city."

He went on to state, "When we moved from Toronto to Chicago, there was almost no touch-up at all, the overhead fixtures were pretty much pre-focused and dead-on."

As the VARI*LITE® fixtures continue their brilliant performance on the road, little attention is being drawn to Quigley and his crew. But for Quigley that is just fine "The less time I appear in the show report, the happier I am."

The Wicked tour will continue to blow across the nation, as it looks to sell-out in every city it where it stops. After recently setting up a company in Chicago and leaving them behind, the tour will move on to Los Angeles. After that, it’s on to San Francisco, Denver, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Hartford, Washington, D.C., Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis, San Diego, Costa Mesa, and finally Tempe.

A national tour is a long, hard road. It will have countless bumps and bruises, with many beginnings and ends. Yet it has to keep on moving. The trucks have keep on rolling, and the gear has to keep on running. But the one thing they can count on for sure, VARI*LITE® is ready for one Wicked ride!

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