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Interview:
Meet the guy who creates Paul McCartney's magical mystery tour on stage
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Between the Beatles and his solo career, not to mention interesting collaborations with the likes of Kanye West and Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney certainly offers plenty hear during his shows -- including this year's One On One Tour.

And LeRoy Bennett makes sure there's plenty to look at -- not only for McCartney but also for Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and more.

A veteran stage, lighting and production designer since mid-70s, Bennett is charged with creating a visual magical mystery tour for McCartney and his other clients over the years. He doesn't play an instrument himself and firmly states he has no interest in being on stage, but as the product of a musical and artistic home in Rhode Island he has a natural draw to show biz.

"I learned I could perform musically without having to be on the stage through visual, which to me made sense," acknowledges Bennett, who came into the field working with a small band from Washington, D.C., after he graduated from high school and later moved into larger-scale productions, listening Prince as his first client in 1980, a 14-year relationship that included "Purple Rain" and three films.

"I've been fortunate in my career in that I've worked with the best creative artists that have ever existed," notes Bennett, who also has Gaga's Joanne World Tour and Mars' 24K Magic World Tour on the road alongside the McCartney show. "I've been lucky with that. And Paul's right up there; He changed the world of music. So it's a privilege to work with people like that."

The 75-year-old McCartney's touring practice -- playing short tours several times a year -- presents Bennett with the unique challenge of doing something different without completely reinventing the show after just a few performances.

"We'll do a year-long period of these batches of dates with the same show, unless he adds another song during that time," Bennett explains. "But usually we stick to one thing and re-group the next year and add another element, just to spice it up a little more." McCartney's breadth of material, meanwhile, requires Bennett to design a more "flexible" production than he might for other artists.

"Paul has multiple personalities just based on the fact his catalog is so vast and it goes through so many decades and eras and emotions," he says. "His songs are almost world treasures, so the show has to have a flexibility that captures those moments and honors them the way they should be honored."

For the One On One Tour Bennet is using layers of LED video screens and vertical LED "sticks" that "interact and play off each other." The 50th anniversary of the Beatles' landmark "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, meanwhile, called for other elements to be part of the show, including an animated version of iconic cover that appears during McCartney's reprise of the title track.

"During that era of the Beatles the visuals were very distinctive, so when he does those (songs) during the show you feel inwardly what the time period was," Bennett says. "It brings you into that period just with the images and colors we use on the stage."

And there's the perennial challenge of staging McCartney's theme song for the James Bond film "Live and Let Die," which is routinely accompanied by an extensive pyrotechnic display. "We try to blow the stage up in as many different ways as we can," Bennett says with another laugh. "There's always new products coming out all the time in the pyro world. A lot of it is really about the residue and whatís allowed or not allowed in certain cities. But we usually figure it out so we can have consistency to every city."

All told Bennett -- who received an Emmy Award nomination this year for Gaga's Super Bowl halftime performance -- will have a major show on the road through mid-December, and he's already working on more for 2018. They all look different, but there is a singular mission they have in common.

"The approach with everything I do is it's enhancement," Bennett explains. "It's never distraction. You never overpower the artist. They are the star; What I do just emulates the motion of what's going and tries to do it in not a blatant way, because I don't like the obvious. Iím just trying to emotionally portray the music so that it feels good without being obvious to people."



If You Go:

Paul McCartney

8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Oct. 1-2

Little Caesars Arena, 2645 Woodward Ave., Detroit.

Some tickets remain.

Call 313-471-7000 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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