The will they/won’t they/exactly who are ‘they’ questions got the PR train-a-rolling for the Spice Girls, way in front of their sell-out tour this year.
Of course, beyond the cheers of fans – from hardy perennials to teens/20-somethings who snapped up all the tickets for Spice World – the ‘we’re-better-than-them’ mentality is still rife among the critics.
By way of telling example, headlines vilifying the sound quality from the opening date at Croke Park, and which were whipped up by social media, stemmed from just a handful of complaints among an audience of 80,000.
“The Spice Girls coming back and being a great success isn’t a news story,” tour production manager, Tony Gittins, shrugged at the Ricoh Arena before doors. “Wigwam and the sound guys put a lot of work into making it sound right and they did a fantastic job, it sounded great.”
And successful this extraordinary tour was, yes thanks to Sporty, Scary, Baby and Ginger for the performance and the pantomime. There was no Posh this time out, but to the stellar, stadium-size production effort behind them too.
An A-list of suppliers – no wannabes – pulled together despite the fact it wasn’t confirmed until the end of September 2018 when bookings for the following season were by and large done and dusted. To make it even tougher, Spice World was about quantity too, with three leapfrogging systems.
“A thing of this size is usually a good year in the planning where we had six months,” Gittins said. “Suppliers were a decision between me and Modest Management but it had to be someone big enough and equipped enough.”
When one becomes three
A Star Events – now Star Live – 25m VerTech stage served as the hook for Spice World and for Brilliant Stages which supplied the 30m by 11m downstage crescent replete with six type A electric Serapid lifts; the foremost bringing the Spice Girls up into the action at the beginning of the set. Brilliant also built the Passerelle, the 13m globe hung mid-stage and the 19m LED ring sitting outside it, Saturn-style.
Designed by Lee Lodge and Jason Sherwood, the Spice World set was a platform for revue-style performances. A tight band largely out of sight under the globe behind a significant cast of dancers clad in a series of coordinated colours and Spice-themed outfits from the heyday and the Girls themselves. So Star Events and Brilliant incorporated extensive underworlds to allow the principals to access show reveals from their on-stage, quick-change area.
The weight of video/graphics behind the show tees up the songs, provides a depth of backdrop and magnifies the Girls’ sisterhood, which is what the crowds are there for as much as their harmonising and high notes. The Conservatism/Thatcherism bandied about by some of the band in their original incarnation is below the surface 23+ years later. Spice World is inclusive. The welcome running across the set at the start of the show extends to all nationalities and origins, religions, beliefs and sexual orientations far more persuasively than the current political climate.
Seven hundred sq m of UniPix 5mm LED panels completed the picture, around the video ring, the screens on each side and along the header, which ran the entire 65m of the platform.
“The size of our iMAGs makes this probably 25 per cent wider than any other show, each of them is pretty much a rear screen for most [tours], and we swept the wings back to give more of the audience a much fuller view,” Gittins said.
“It’s a very heavy content show. The girls are prominent on the screens and it looks amazing.”
Spice World is a BIG world, the video ring on its own weighs 11 tons, so Gittins and company built the globe, lifted it and landed it on the stage before they could fly the ring. On the out, it was the other way round – ring first.
“There’s been a lot of hard work between James Heath, the rigger, Pete Holdich from Star, Brilliant and myself to get it all within the limits of the design,” Gittins continued.
There are only a finite number of stage systems that can accommodate a show like this and VerTech is one of them.
“[It’s] a very big cantilever, the curved header with the video screen matches the curved extension to the stage, and the video ring, so it’s all very off the front. Again, that took a lot of working out how we hang it on the main roof,” Gittins explains. “We’re pushing the limits but all the prep work meant by the time we hit production rehearsals we knew what we were doing.”
What comes next? Talk of an international follow-up tour is yet ‘to become one…’