Sunday, July 02, 2000

Pops' real show behind the scenes

Live broadcast's logistics daunting

        Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel will complete his “six-pack” of Pops holiday specials with a bang, when “Fourth of July from the Heartland” is broadcast live nationwide on PBS from Riverbend Music Center at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

        The live broadcast is a Cincinnati first.

(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “Part Ed Sullivan and part P.T. Barnum” is how director Phillip Byrd of Brandenburg Productions describes Mr. Kunzel.

        Here's why: In addition to the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and fireworks, the show will star Kentucky-born singer Rosemary Clooney; program host Nick Clooney; trumpet virtuoso Doc Severinsen; actor Danny Glover; singing actor Tom Wopat; Broadway's Alton Fitzgerald White; the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers' Chorus; the Southern Gateway Chorus; aerialist Alexander Streltsov; country fiddler Billy Contreras; the Camp Chase Fifes and Drums; the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy; and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Musical Theater Department.

        As many as 3.8 million households could tune in to the Pops show, the number that tuned into PBS' A Capitol Fourth last year, says Phil Meyer of WCET (Channel 48). WCET is collaborating with Brandenburg Productions in broadcasting the 90-minute show.

        Mr. Byrd, who has directed the Pops and CSO TV specials and is a veteran of numerous national TV shows, was in town in May to film the May Festival for its PBS debut next season.

        He and his wife, associate director Janet Shapiro, spoke about the challenges of shooting a live show, and how it will look to audiences — at home and at Riverbend.

        Question: Will the live show be much different from the show people will see in their living rooms?

        Mr. Byrd: The reality is that the people at Riverbend are going to see an entirely different show than people are going to see on television.

What: “Cincinnati Pops Holiday: Fourth of July from the Heartland,” the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Erich Kunzel, conductor.
When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, prelude performance by the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers Chorus. Broadcast: 9:30-11 p.m., followed by fireworks.
Where: Riverbend.
Tickets: $20-$25 pavilion; $16 lawn. Children under 12 admitted free to the lawn. 381-3300 or at
Tune in: 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Channels 48, 54 and 16; repeats at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Channel 48.
        They may actually see a more interesting show in some ways. They'll see (stage manager) Joe Hopper's stage crew trying very quietly to go out and connect all of Rosemary Clooney's microphones and audio equipment, while a number is happening on the other side of the stage.

        Q: What are some of the challenges of shooting live at Riverbend?

        Mr. Byrd: Everything has to happen on time. There are lots of little things that can complicate that. So we're constantly looking at where we have a chance to fix it if something goes wrong.

        One of the things we also need is extraordinarily good communication across the entire production. Nick Clooney will work behind the audience under the shed; over Nick's shoulder, you'll be able to see the stage.

        Nick is a pro. We've worked with him a little bit, and he's just dead-on. A “one-take wonder,” as we say.

        While Nick is talking, somebody in the truck will say, “We're 40 seconds short,” or “we're 20 seconds long,” so Erich knows he's got to do something a little faster, or a little slower.

(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Ms. Shapiro: With a live show, there's no second chance. It's got to keep moving. We'll talk to Rosemary (Clooney) about how much she can banter. Everybody wants that connection with her, but no one will have a chance to improvise on this show.

        Q. Who wrote the script?

        Ms. Shapiro: Erich always writes his own scripts. Both Nick and Erich will talk, but Nick is the glue who holds the show together.

        Q. You've got a lot to complicate things, including the U.S. Army Field Band, the Southern Gateway Chorus and Mr. Kunzel's usual cast of thousands.

        Mr. Byrd: Yes, I think he's trying to do as many elements in this show as we have in three other shows. Part of the excitement, too, is going to be watching Southern Gateway Chorus get on and get off, and the band get on. I think it's going to be a very good show at Riverbend, watching all of this stuff happen.

        Q. Did you take footage ahead of time that you will insert, such as a pan of the city?

        Mr. Byrd: We have a lot of footage on tape. We were here for Tall Stacks last year and Labor Day's Riverfest. We have a great one with Erich playing the calliope on the Delta Queen.

        Yes, it's mostly live show.

        Q. Will you pan the crowd, like the cameras do for A Capitol Fourth (8 p.m. Tuesday, Channels 48, 54 and 16)?

        Mr. Byrd: Probably not. But you're going to see a lot of the audience. Part of what they have (in Washington, D.C.) is when they pan the crowd, you also see the Capitol behind them. It's a much different kind of setting here; it isn't intended to look like that show.

        Q. How will you manage the sound outdoors, where you'll be competing with boats, planes, trains and cicadas?

        Mr. Byrd: Very carefully. Everything is going to be a challenge.

        Q. Will you rehearse things like lighting and camera angles?

        Mr. Byrd: Yes. Lighting is a challenge. It's much more complicated and expensive (than indoors), because it's a much bigger space. It takes more equipment, more people and more time.

        The opening shot will be a wide shot from up on the pergola, of people on the lawn and the fireworks going off. It's going to be a spectacular shot.

        Q. Have you done many live shows?

        Mr. Byrd: I've done plenty of live shows. I've even done a live show with Rosemary Clooney, in 1988 in Baltimore. She was singing some of the same songs she's going to sing here, with the world-famous Glenn Miller Orchestra.

        My father thought that there would be this traveling band full of people his age who were veterans of World War II! They were young conservatory graduates, paying off their students loans, but they were great players.


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