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Usher to hit it quick in Super Bowl show

Updated February 4, 2024 - 8:24 pm

Super Bowl halftime show creative directors Baz Halpin and Aakomon Jones are chatting casually at the Starbucks across the street from Allegiant Stadium.

The scene is mellow on this overcast Sunday afternoon. Next Sunday, it will be a Vegas-fashioned spectacle for the guys designing Usher’s halftime show.

The opportunity is immense, they say. And so are the challenges.

“We can’t do anything that affects the game, that affects the field, that affects the way the game is played,” says Halpin, wearing an “Awakening” pullover, for the show he co-produces at the Wynn. “The field, as you know, in this stadium is a roll-away, and the grass kept outside. The greenskeeper, or the grass keeper, has a responsibility to make sure it’s pristine. And so do we.”

Halpin even talks of the wheels — not Usher’s rollerskates, but on the carts that haul in the equipment for the show.

“It can only be one type of wheel, and it’s an enormous wheel,” says Halpin, founder of Silent House Production who has worked with Cher and Katy Perry in Las Vegas. “We can’t create divots when we bring these carts in from the tunnel.”

In short (12 minutes, specifically), Usher needs to make history without being flagged for interference. Remember the smoke that hovered over Joe Robbie Stadium after the halftime show of Super Bowl XXIX? Steve Young’s TD pass to Jerry Rice opening the third quarter was almost lost in the fog from Miami Sound Machine’s performance.

As Halpin says, “There has been less pyro in every Super Bowl since.”

The magnitude of the halftime show erupted with Michael Jackson’s production at Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl.

“The production method of the Super Bowl has been figured out over decades. It used to be that the game’s camera director would be director for halftime,” Jones says. “Michael came in and says, ‘No, I want my own lights, I want my own sound, I want my own pyrotechnics. I want my own team, and I want my own director (Don Mischer Productions).’ From that day on, it changed the game.”

Jones says the simply pass-fail evaluation will be, “No one gets hurt, and everyone has a smile on their face at the end.”

Jones says the creative team’s plan to win those grins starts with the set list.

“We have a very large-scale show, but you begin with, what songs are you going to use?” says Jones, who has worked with Usher on and off since his 2004 “Confessions” album. “You try to please the crowd, please the fans watching around the world, respect what the charts and streams say but also get a story across.”

The veteran directors marvel at Usher’s talent, and tireless work ethic.

“The guy runs his own corporation. He works harder than anybody,” Halpin says. “I left him last night at 11:30 p.m., and our first text today was at 6:30 a.m.”

“That is not an anomaly,” Jones interjects. “No, that is typical.”

The superstar said in an interview on “CBS Sunday” he sleeps “maybe four” hours a night.

“He’s training, exercising. Watching his diet, his vocals,” Halpin says. “He has this athleticism — there are very few people that take the art of rehearsal as seriously as Usher.”

Even with this diligence, Halpin knows a flawless performance is not guaranteed. The superstar and creative team began preparations in December, and have rehearsed in Allegiant Stadium over the past week. But you cannot control every facet of a frenetic 12-minute show.

Halpin recalls Perry’s production at the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show in 2015. The rogue “Left Shark” dancer became a viral sensation and lingering icon. Many fans at Perry’s “Play” show at Resorts World (also a Halpin production) dressed as the wayward, predatory fish.

“And she still has the highest rating, the highest viewership of any halftime show, ever,” Halpin says. “It’s such a culturally significant moment. It’s so ingrained in not only by Americans, but also globally. It showed that what happens in the halftime show is global.”

The creative team is not revealing specifics of the staging, the song order, or who will be among Usher’s collaborations (the headliner has promised he won’t soar solo).

Asked for such specifics as, “Will Usher be on wheels?’ Halpin says, “Whatever you’re hoping for from an Usher performance, the breadth of his talent, will be there. It will be dense, it will be action-packed, and the spirit of Las Vegas is threaded through the show.”

Cool Hang Alert

On the topic of Usher, Mondays Dark at the The Space pays homage to the R&B superstar at 8 p.m. Monday (natch), benefiting ALS of Southern Nevada. The Space proprietor and Mondays Dark creator Mark Shunock interviews Tony Orlando in the new Road Case Conversations series. Go to MondaysDark.com for intel.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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