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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April, 2005, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Celine Dion pixel power steals show
Ian Hardy
By Ian Hardy
BBC Click Online North America technology correspondent

While most live theatre productions still rely on clunky scenery and painted backdrops to set the scene, Ian Hardy finds that one show in Las Vegas is arguably ahead of its time in sheer pixel power.

Celine Dion's show
Could technology become the new superstar of the stage?
Many fans turning up to see Celine Dion at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas expect to listen to a standard concert performance.

But visually, it is also very strong - thanks to a piece of technology on the stage that could very well be the future of live theatre.

The show is called A New Day, but in technology terms the real star is 34 feet tall, 109 feet wide, weighs 104 tons, is cooled by 384 fans and has nearly five and half million light-emitting diodes.

Rick Mooney, the technical director, says: "From the moment we first opened our doors and people came through and saw this screen, all of a sudden everyone is just like: 'Wow!'"

If you wanted to put it in your living room, the price tag would be $6m.

Then you would have to hire a few people to inspect the surface area and replace any dodgy diodes.

Richard Stout, the director of video, says this is a daily process.

"We do a screen check before each show. It's pretty easy to just do a quick visual check and it sticks out pretty much like a sore thumb.

"You can see if there are any problems whatsoever immediately."

At Celine's show the maintenance bill is not too high, since even in the massive theatre the screen is usually run at just 1% of its full brightness.

Star competition

The super screen represents a shift in Vegas show mentality.

Celine Dion's show
This type of screen has not caught on in Broadway yet
Legendary star status is no longer the sole contributor to ticket sales.

Technology is now just as important as talent on the Strip.

Rick Mooney says: "We are able, with the screen, to morph backdrops and create contexts, to create big plateaus and wrap those kinds of things around each of the songs.

"Whereas Elvis, in his day, had to be 100% the entertainer."

Preparing the vivid video footage and detailed animation to show on the high-definition expanse is a time-consuming project that has to be filmed in chunks and then laced together by computers.

The curvature of the screen also has to be taken into consideration.

Groundbreaking

Celine's show pioneered many new techniques in digital imagery.

Rick Mooney says: "This is the start of a whole new concept and way of producing theatre. Can we do this on Broadway?

"Rather than having to load in sets and backdrops and those kinds of things, all they have to do from one show to another is change the video content, and you don't even need the room to do that, you do it in the video suite back some place cheap."

But Broadway theatres seem reluctant to embrace screens quite yet.

One example is the musical Brooklyn, which features five street performers singing their way through a fairytale about a daughter in search of her long-lost father.

It relies heavily on the actors' interaction with the set, which was literally put together using real junk from Brooklyn streets. They climb on it, swing from it and use parts of it as props.

Tobin Ost, the associate set designer, says: "Brooklyn is a very intimate show.

"These sorts of screens are meant largely to inundate, to overwhelm. I think that would be lost on our show.

"Brooklyn is all about a three-dimensional production. In addition it's about actors making something out of nothing, making something out of street detritus, largely sculptural elements that they bring on, manipulate, unravel, unfold.

"To have a backdrop that would fight with what's going on in front of it would not serve the show particularly well."

Back in Vegas they are sure that as screen prices drop and the ability to create fantastical movie-like scenery increases, more and more productions will rely on LED displays to put audiences at a live show in the moment.


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