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Expanded Production For Houston's Tour hide

This is Whitney Houston's year to shine, as her 1991 stage production involves nearly 300 lights.

Houston was to start her "I'm Your Baby Tonight" tour of 70 cities on April 18 at Thompson Boling Assembly Center & Arena at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She rehearsed at the Hollywood (Fla.) Sportatorium, before doing more final rehearsals at Stabler Arena, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa.

Stabler is "in a quiet and secluded area, and it's off the beaten path for us," said Tony Bullock, tour manager. "It was also large enough, and had everything we needed. She really wanted to make this spectacular."

Houston will be illuminated with a computerized robo-track system of lamps, he said. "Paul McCartney had this, but hers is more unique. You have to see it and its physical movement in action."

It was designed by Marc Brickman, who has done visuals for Pink Floyd and McCartney.

In fact, Houston has never been in the spotlight more, with a production involving 138 Vari-Lites, 100 par cans and 60 Telescans. Obie's Lighting is renting all but the Vari-Lites, along with the trusses.

But Houston's fans mostly come to hear - not see - her perform, said Bullock. "With her vocal ability, there's no need to supplement it with tape. She's 100 percent live in concert, and she insists on it," he said.

Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park will do the scenery and props; their credits include "The Wall" back drop for Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones' "Urban Jungle" European tour.

"She wants to feel the audio as she performs," he said. "She likes it clear; and Maryland Sound Industries has the top of the line speakers for us. They have the fidelity and they do constant maintenance for us on the p.a. and all."

MSI will provide 48 to 58 cabinets, which are high-low par with subwoofers. Houston also used MSI in 1987.

Her tour will go to amphitheaters and auditoriums. The show will last an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes, with much of it new material, said Bullock. She makes at least two wardrobe changes. Houston will have an 11-member back-up group, including her brother Gary on vocals, and four dancers.

"I don't think she's anymore demanding in her contract than any other tour of her size," he said. "Once she gets into her routine, she comes in for her sound check in the afternoon. Unless it's an engagement when she only does that once."

Houston has gone from five trucks in 1987 to a nine-tractor fleet in 1991. Her semis came from Night Moves, and motor coaches from Four Seasons Leasing.

Triad Artists, Los Angeles, is her booking agency. Her personal manager is her father, John Houston, through Nippy Inc., New York. Her brother Michael Houston is road manager.

"She has an idea what the audience is like before she gets to the hall," said Bullock. "She wants to know if she sold out, and we tell her. She's well-educated on finance. Whitney requires that she knows of any last-minute changes, and she knows the budgets ahead of time. She goes to the meetings we have, and she knows what she wants."

This year she did an HBO All-American military salute, "Welcome Home Heroes With Whitney Houston." This year at Super Bowl XXV she sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," which was recorded; Arista Records made donations of more than $500,000 to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund from the sales of CDs, video and audiocassettes of that performance.

Whitney Houston's itinerary: Hearnes Center, Columbia, Mo., April 23; Hilton Coliseum, University of Iowa, Ames, 24; Carver Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa, 26; Target Center, Minneapolis, 27; Winnipeg (Man.) Arena, 29; Saskatchewan Place, Saskatoon, Sask., May 1; Northlands Arena, Edmonton, Alta., 3; Olympic Sadledome, Calgary, Alta., 5; PNE Coliseum, Vancouver, B.C., 7; Portland (Ore.) Coliseum, 8; Seattle Coliseum, 9; Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum, 11; Arco Arena, Sacramento, Calif., 12; Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, Calif., 13; Forum, Los Angeles, 16; Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Calif., 17; Desert Sky Amphitheatre, Phoenix, 19; and Thomas & Mack Center, University of Las Vegas, 21.

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