Philips Vari-Lite VL4000 Spots Light Up “Zorba!"

by Naomi Crews

An image from Zorba! (c) Joan MarcusLD Ken Billington chose the 1200W Philips Vari-Lite VL4000 Spot Luminaires for his "Mediterranean" design for the City Center Encores! production of Zorba!

Philips Vari-Lite VL4000 Spot Luminaires Transform the New York City Center for Zorba!

Lighting designer Ken Billington is confident the 1200W luminaire was the ideal fixture for his Mediterranean lighting design

Dallas, Texas - The New York City Center has given life to numerous Broadway productions and its Tony-honored Encores! musical theater series has received the highest accolades possible. Dedicated to making the best in theater accessible to all audiences, the City Center recently completed their production of Zorba! telling the story of a shy American intellectual who befriends an irrepressible jack-of-all-trades. As lighting designer Ken Billington was challenged to transform the historic stage into an island off the coast of Greece, he found his ideal fixture to make this happen in the VL4000 Spot luminaire from Philips Vari-Lite.

“I have done about 30 different productions with the City Center Encores! with many of the most successful productions moving to Broadway,” began Billington. “For this production set in Greece, we wanted the lighting design to be as real as possible so we used a lot of unsaturated color palettes, except when we went into the fantasy sequences when we would interject more color saturation. Going into the process, I had planned to use VL3000 Spot luminaires, but when I heard the VL4000 Spots were available, I was very excited because this is the perfect venue to try new lights on a Broadway-scale production.”

The VL4000 Spot from Philips Vari-Lite includes all the tools needed to create dynamic and useful lighting as every aspect of the luminaire has been designed with performance in mind. The 1200W VL4000 Spot boasts 33,000 lumens as well as a quiet Studio mode which outputs 25,000 lumens. Its high resolution optics ensure remarkable center-to-edge focusing and an unprecedented contrast ratio while a 5:1 zoom covers an amazing 9 to 47 degrees without sacrificing output or clarity.

Billington continued, “With every Encore! series production there is usually a 30-piece orchestra on stage playing the original orchestrations. Also the set design of Zorba! had a large platform on stage as well, so this production definitely had a few design challenges. We do tech rehearsal in one, nine-hour day, so you have to go into it knowing exactly what your lights can do, and since I have to focus the conventional lights before the set is built onstage, moving lights are an absolute necessity. With the VL4000 Spot my thought was that if it’s a Vari-Lite it’s going to work and I wasn’t worried at all about the performance of the lights on the show.”

Hung overhead on the first and second electric, the VL4000 Spot luminaires were trimmed at 28 feet. As Billington got to work with his programmer lighting the show, he had a specific purpose for the high-powered luminaires from Philips Vari-lite and they did not disappoint.

“In the show, the VL4000 Spots handled my specials with gobos and specific color washes,” added Billington. “What truly made them fabulous in my opinion was that their brightness really made the gobo projections punch through the 200 conventional fixtures that were lighting the performance area.” 

Along with the mechanical iris of the VL4000 Spot, its beam can be further modified via the precise four-blade shutter system, independent prism with divergence control, and the variable frost. The Infinity Color Mix System offers CYM color mixing along with variable CTO color temperature correction and dual five-position color wheels. The VL4000 Spot luminaire also features dual rotating gobo wheels with a remarkable new collection of optimized gobo patterns for both aerial and projected imagery, and its dual animation wheels provide dynamic motion effects such as the chromatically tuned Dichro*Fusion effect.

Billington went on to state, “Another great surprise was the frost in the VL4000 Spots. When I put the frost in, I could still do the specials with plenty of brightness, but it didn’t look like a hard-edge fixture. The frost made the beam a beautifully soft special and having one fixture that can do it all is perfect.”

At the conclusion of Zorba!, Billington knew that he had made the right choice with the VL4000 Spot, and when speaking to other theatrical designers who may be looking for the same type of fixture for their productions, he is quick to recommend the VL4000 Spot luminaire.

“When designing a show, you have to start by selecting the fixtures that are right for your production,” concluded Billington. “On this show, we needed a bright fixture to give us the Greek island daylight punch, but also in a theatrical environment noise is important. Never once did I notice the fan noise of the VL4000 Spot or have the sound designer telling me they were too loud. So if you need a bright, clean fixture for a theatrical production, the VL4000 Spot would be a great choice because they did exactly what I thought they would do, and they were the right instrument for the job.” 

As a leading designer and manufacturer of premiere automated lighting systems, Philips Vari-Lite provides equipment and services to the entertainment industry, serving such markets as concert touring, theatre, television, film, cruise lines, houses-of-worship, and corporate events. Vari-Lite automated lighting systems are available through a worldwide network of independent professional dealers. For more information visit, follow us on Twitter, join our Facebook community, or watch us on YouTube.