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SUPER BOWL SPECIAL : Halftime Is Showtime for a Cast of 1,100 Singers, Dancers, Musicians

January 29, 1988|HILLIARD HARPER | San Diego County Arts Writer

A different kind of field marshal will take command of the gridiron at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium Sunday when Coaches Joe Gibbs and Dan Reeves hustle their teams off the field after the second quarter of the Big Game.

High in the press box, director Barnett Lipton will send 1,100 dancers, musicians and singers onto the field for a halftime spectacular he hopes will be the best in Super Bowl history.

Lipton, a hyper-energetic, curly-haired, 35-year-old veteran of show biz extravaganzas, has done this and more before. Last year in Philadelphia, he directed a 20,000-person parade, commemorating the Constitution's 200th anniversary.

For the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he coordinated the opening and closing ceremonies. Lipton directed the gala festivities for the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tenn., and served as the entertainment consultant for the 1984 Republican National Convention.

'Logistics Are Massive'

Even so, halftime will be white-knuckle time for Lipton and 200 backstage professionals supporting the action at center field.

"The logistics are massive," he said in a recent interview. Indeed, months of preparation went into the halftime entertainment, dubbed "Something Grand" and featuring 88 grand pianos and their players.

Hundreds of local high-school girl dancers had to be auditioned. Two huge marching bands--San Diego State and USC--had to be identified and rehearsed. Eighty-eight grand pianos and more than 1,000 costumes had to be acquired, including 500 tuxedos. (Lipton is praying for clear weather.)

The event itself requires the split-second timing of a halfback running a tight buttonhook pattern. The 1,100 performers, after assembling at Sea World, will be transported to the stadium by a 35-bus caravan only minutes before halftime.

Then Lipton must get everyone--a dancing female drill team, roller skating dancers, two marching bands, a hula hooper, 44 Rockettes, singer Chubby Checker, the pianos, along with the pianists and 88 girls who will dance atop the pianos--onto the field. He has seven minutes for that.

Using a battery of cellular phones, walkie-talkies and hard wire headsets, Lipton will "call" the show to four stage managers and two assistants, who will direct the actions of the supporting crew.

As the bands march and play, the performers will dance a series of intricate patterns to a varied medley of music ranging from Grieg's Concerto in A Minor and the Ellington-Goodman standard, "Flying Home," to a new piece called "The Super Bowl Twist."

Inspired by Enthusiasm

Lipton has infused his team of assistants from Radio City Music Hall with his infectious enthusiasm. They in turn, have inspired the hundreds of volunteer performers such as Tara Butler, who studies jazz dance at Grossmont High School.

"It's a lot of hard work," said Butler, during a rehearsal last week. But choreographer Nina David made the 52 hours of organized practice worthwhile. "She's fun," Butler said. "She makes it neat, and she's cute."

Ironically, this elaborate show, bankrolled by the NFL, will last only 12 minutes. The challenge for Lipton is to hold the attention of the stadium and television audiences.

"As much as I hate to admit it, people are really here for a football game," Lipton said, sighing.

Then he brightened and confided, "One of my goals is to take a two-hour stadium spectacular, and have a 10-minute football game squeezed into the middle."

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