Our responsibilities were as follows:
Production and Design – We procured the stage, lighting, sound and video production elements to execute the show, transforming a generic event space with low ceilings into a concert setting. We utilized an LED star curtain for the back drop, vertical trussing and stage mounted lighting fixtures due to low ceiling heights and a center follow spot. We configured the front of house PA system and the band monitor system and utilized video screens on both sides of the stage to display videos and interviews with the Legends as segues between acts. The custom created videos gave the audience a retrospective of each Legends’ career as an introduction and set change over piece prior to their performance segment.
Entertainment – One of the largest challenges was finding 6 people that could capture the sound, vibe, look and spirit of all of the performers. Each Legend needed to perform a 15 minute set. To do this we used a common house band to back up each of the performers. The house band consisted of a drummer/musical director that handled all of the arrangements and charts for each Legend, a bassist, a guitarist, and two background singers. We went through our roll-a-dex to determine which local performers could accomplish the feat of transforming into a Legend. The show presented many technical challenges. Some of the performers played instruments (Toby Keith) that needed to be set up within 2 – 3 minutes between performers in the dark. Additionally, our Ray Charles had to have a keyboard set up during this time as well.
The objectives of the show were to provide an evening of entertainment, packed with hits from legendary performers while working within tight budget constraints. To do so we had to utilize economies of scale in having a common house band as well as negotiating all of the deals with the individual performers to come in at our allotted budget. All of this was quite challenging, but the standing ovations at the end of the night were a testament to our success.
Our client was a casino venue. We have developed a relationship where they trust our company to build custom events. We brainstorm a vision for the event and then they turn us lose to use our creativity to bring the ideas to fruition. One of the most unique aspects to our Legends show is that we don’t simply go out and hire impersonators that do these characters all of the time. We hand pick individuals that we feel embody the talent and spirit of the Legend and then custom create the performance all the way down to the costuming. Specifically for our Ray Charles, we went through an entire transformation process of creating his look all the way from his hair to skin tone.
“A Night of Legends” was the feature event for high rollers during the Spring of 2015. We staged two shows that evening at 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM in order to accommodate two distinct audiences.
The execution of this event came in many phases. The marketing department of the casino approached our company and asked if we could execute a Legends concept, similar to shows that happen in Las Vegas. As we often do in this industry, we said “Yes” on the phone. Then we hung up the phone and figured out how to do it.
We first started with our music director. He would have the important task of creating all of the arrangements, charts and backing tracks necessary to execute the show with only a three piece band. From there, we hired the rest of the band. They had to be versatile players that could cover everything from the country sounds of Toby Keith to the soulful sounds of Ray Charles and everything in between.
Selecting the Legends was also a challenging task. We identified various individuals that could execute the music and style of each Legend for a 15 minute set. We had to bring together many artists that had never worked together before and have them prepare for a day of show rehearsal before the evening began.
For our Toby Keith, we approached an Artist that fronts a popular country cover band. We had him grow out his beard and hair and then found the authentic shirt, hat and guitar strap that Toby was known to use.
For our Shania Twain, we needed both a singer and dancer that could execute not only the vocal abilities, but the stage presence that Shania is known for. Additionally we procured one of her iconic outfits for costuming.
Our Smokey Robinson impersonator was a former touring background singer for national recording artist Seal. We needed someone that could handle the velvety falsetto tones of Smokey’s voice that also had the correct hair and skin tone to pull of the look.
For our Aretha Franklin, we needed someone that had sass, attitude, the look and most importantly the power house voice to pull off the Queen of Soul’s catalog. We found that with a local female vocalist that has worked throughout Chicago over the past two decades. We had to take special care in this instance as this particular artist was perfect for the job yet had a checkered past with some of our other Artists. She was known as a bit of a diva and difficult to work with. This took a lot of extra care on our part in managing these relationships carefully between the artists, often playing the role of a therapist.
Our Diana Ross was also a delicate pick. We needed someone with a delicate voice that also had the look and Diva sass that Diana was known for. We found this in a soft spoken Chicago based singer and we really worked with her to coax out the Diana attitude that was needed for the performance. We also worked with our hair and makeup artist to find the correct wig for her.
Ray Charles was the most challenging Legend. With Ray, you must start with the voice. His tone and phrasing are so distinct that almost anyone at any age could identify Ray with their eyes closed. We found the perfect match in a Chicago based singer. The trouble was, he was bald, not African American and did not play keyboard. We brought in a hair and makeup artist to do a complete transformation, creating his hair using a rubbery scalp covering and applying cotton balls one by one. Then she went through and spray painted the cotton balls and altered our Artist’s skin tone. We then worked with the Artist to play faux keyboard and get down Ray’s distinct mannerisms and gestures. The performance was one for the ages.
In the end, we brought the entire cast out on stage to sing the refrain of “Reach Out and Touch” with Diana Ross and got a tremendous amount of audience participation.
The show was a great success. We have been paid the ultimate compliment by the client of being asked to produce another show in April of 2016.