Rock music producer Rikki Farr has worked with some of the biggest names in the business -- the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Who, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, Nine Inch Nails. Now he's working with the biggest of them all -- the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Just how big are the Rangers? Those karate-chopping, candy-colored, monster-fighting, high-kicking, morphing super-people have the nation's No. 1 children's TV show. Last year more than $1 billion in licensed Power Rangers merchandise was sold (one heck of a lot of action figures, lunch boxes and bedsheets).
Naturally, since the Rangers have conquered TV and the merchandising markets, it's time to hit the road. As part of a 76-city tour, the Power Rangers -- Jason, Zack, Kimberly, Billy, Trinni and Tommy -- will morph into the Baltimore Arena May 10-14 for their first live show. (Note to parents: It's important to call the Rangers by their first names. Children don't like it if you refer to them as the "red one" or the "pink one.")
The live show will feature action, dancing, exotic costumes, gymnastics, a revolving stage, pyrotechnics, lasers, inflatable monsters, wild lighting, giant film screens and loud music. "It's very much like a pre-teen Pink Floyd concert," says Mr. Farr.
It may seem odd that Mr. Farr, who started out working with the Beatles, would be working with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. But for Mr. Farr, it was a natural progression.
For the live show, the creator of the television show, Haim Saban, originally looked for a producer who had worked with children's productions.
"But Saban didn't think they really captured the soul of the show," Mr. Farr says. "One of the investors had worked with people like Michael Jackson and Madonna and suggested to Saban to contact me . . . When I met with Saban, he and I were sitting among a group of Armani suits growling and playing, and I was pretending to be Lord Zedd. Saban said, 'This is my man.' "
It was hardly love at first sight with the Power Rangers. "When I first watched the show, I thought it was awful," Mr. Farr says. "But then I watched it some more and realized that what Saban really was doing was making a preteen rock show with martial arts."
With the go-ahead from Mr. Saban, Mr. Farr was allowed to do just about anything he could dream up.
"I wanted the story to be a tale of good vs. evil," Mr. Farr says. "I wanted evil to nearly win, because in life it always does, and I wanted the kids and parents to participate in the show and help the Power Rangers. . . . And I knew I wanted a very strong core of humor, because the story can be scary."
But not too scary. "I didn't want the story to be too violent," the producer says. "I don't know why people say the television show is so violent. It's just kids kicking a giant blob of rubber with tentacles attached to it. I wanted the martial arts to be very balletic, a la 'West Side Story.' "
Helping with the choreography and casting of the show -- and to help provide the "West Side Story" look Mr. Farr wanted -- was director Anita Mann.
Like Mr. Farr, Ms. Mann is a long way from her original career. She has been working as a dancer and choreographer for 31 years, putting together production numbers for the likes of the Miss America pageant and the television show "Solid Gold." In fact, one of the Solid Gold dancers, Cooly Jackson, is a Power Ranger in the live show.
"We practiced for eight weeks, six days a week; rarely did the dancers sleep," Ms. Mann says. "They had to learn dialogue, train in martial arts, practice gymnastics -- we have a lot of special effects. There were a lot of elements to tie together. The quality of the show has to be like a touring ballet company. There has to be a constant maintenance of the show. It has to be fresh every day. . . . It's a new audience every day. It never can become ordinary. . . . The kids, the dancers, are really wonderful."
Mr. Farr agrees. "If only I could get some of my rock and rollers to have the same work ethic. My life would be an absolute joy."
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
When: May 10, 11, 12, 7 p.m.; May 13, 14, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.
Call: (410) 481-SEAT