Set to the beat of their greatest hits, “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations” brings the untold story of the legendary quintet to Broadway, gathering ecstatic reviews and a Tony award. WorldStage is providing extensive video support for the musical at The Imperial Theatre where audiences thrill to the story of brotherhood, family, loyalty and betrayal as they follow The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The Des McAnuff-directed production leans heavily on video display technology providing WorldStage another opportunity to collaborate with Projection Designer Peter Nigrini on a design that included a unique combination of LED panels, projectors, and media servers. “The scenic elements capture a sense of Detroit in the 1960s and ’70s without making it look like straight history,” he says. “Until this production, I often felt that LED looked too “rock concert”, too “pop”. But current LED displays look so fabulous, there’s something very now and contemporary about them, the technology disappears and what is left is just the image itself. The combination of LED with it’s crisp, clear, sharp look and the more nuanced look of projection makes for a design that feels authentic, but never documentary.”
Long-time WorldStage client Nigrini notes that as a projection designer, “at the end of the day my medium is technology. It’s critical for me to have WorldStage not only as a technical partner but also an aesthetic partner. They understand what I want to accomplish and how not only push my work forward, but that of the entire artform.”
The show’s scenic environment “appears to be an empty stage and a series of brick columns, all in black,” he explains. “A limited amount of automated scenery flys in: a vaudeville-style marquee, which is an LED surface, and two horizontal 8 x 2 meter LED bands that be reconfigured in numerous ways.” WorldStage provided their customized ROE c3ONE 3.1mm LED video tiles, some custom manufactured, to create these elements.
Two portrait-mode LED panels, mimicking framed 3-sheet theater posters, also fly onto the set. For these, WorldStage supplied super-high resolution ROE Sapphire 1.5mm LED panels and Nigrini is “very excited” with the results. “Standing 15 feet away I was fooled – they look like printed posters,” he says. “The color response and the very high resolution give the illusion of printed artwork.” This is the first use of super-fine pitch LED display in a theatrical production
To complete the video environment of the stage set, video projection is used to cover the proscenium’s brick columns and other flying scenery, as well as display images on the stage floor. For the proscenium positions, WorldStage furnished two Panasonic PT-RZ21K 20,000 lumen laser projectors for the center shot and two Panasonic PT-RZ12KU 12,000 lumen laser projectors for the two sides. Five Epson laser projectors are positioned overhead to cover the stage floor.
WorldStage has been involved with “Ain’t Too Proud” since 2017 when the production broke house records at Berkeley Rep (California) and when it toured and played to full houses at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. During those two years, WorldStage continued to explore improvements in LED video technology that would overcome design challenges presented by the standard, off-the-shelf products provided to the prior productions and more effectively fulfill Nigrini’s vision.
“As a designer, when you’re accustomed to the image size flexibility that projection provides, standard-sized LED panels are a limitation.” notes WorldStage Account Executive Lars Pedersen. “While we used standard panels for the prior productions, Peter had always hoped that by the show’s arrival on Broadway we’d be able to provide specific panel sizes to fit the design and that is exactly what we were able to achieve.”
In addition, a change to Brompton Tessera SX40 processing provided Nigrini the kind of control for LED displays that he has been hoping for since the show’s inception. “Brompton delivers greater live control of the LEDs,” Nigrini reports. “When the second act opens and The Temptations present as a global sensation, we can open the throttle and have real rock ’n roll brightness and impact. Then two minutes later, we can switch settings to a more gentle, quiet and theatrical mood. Brompton’s fine control of brightness, contrast and other image settings, makes these transitions feasible.
“It’s easy for LED displays to manage eye-popping, super-saturated colors.” he notes. But when you want LED panels and projection to produce the same grayscale image or the same definition of white, it can be a challenge and much of our content is black and white. Brompton processing handles this a lot better than our previous system.”
To match the comprehensive display technology, WorldStage provided three disguise2×4 PRO and three disguisegx1 media servers, which prove “essential” to the production, says Nigrini, given the tracking required for all the moving LED panels and the projection onto automated scenery.
Nigrini has been working with WorldStage for some 20 years – a demonstration of WorldStage’s “long-term commitment to Broadway,” he says. “It’s not just about how they can support one show but how they can support the whole Broadway community. I’m doing five shows with WorldStage at the moment, and we’re always talking about what exciting idea we can apply to a show.
“WorldStage also works easily with world-class engineers like our Projection Engineer, Ian Crawford, who has a great relationship with their engineering department,” Nigrini adds.