SAN DIEGO -- Barnett Lipton intends to put on a show that will keep 150 million football fans around the world from jumping up for a beer after the end of the first half.
It won't be easy but Lipton thinks he's got the right numbers: 88 grand pianos with players, two squads of 88 'Jazzercise' dancers, 44 dancing girls (with 88 legs, of course), two 88-member drill teams and a 388-piece brass band.
Oh, and the world-champion hula-hooper. And Chubby Checker, the ever-gyrating King of the Twist.
'Something Grand' is the name of the half time show scheduled for the 1988 Super Bowl on Jan. 31, and it promises to be the kind of American spectacle an Italian film director might dream up.
Picture a show staged in Southern California by New York's Radio City Music Hall: a rock-'n'-roll presentation that starts off with a Grieg piano concerto followed by a Duke Ellington swing tune. A chorus line of Rockettes dressed in football uniforms kick-stepping around a giant jukebox on the 50-yard line.
Yes, folks, it's a show that's got something for everyone. And all in 12 minutes flat.
Plus 7 minutes to set up 88 pianos on the field of Jack Murphy Stadium. And 5 minutes to get them off the field. With 22 pumped-up pro football players waiting impatiently on the sidelines.
No problem, says Lipton.
An impish redhead who looks much younger than his 35 years ('but I'm probably 60 inside,' he groans), Lipton is a veteran producer of the outlandish. Best known for orchestrating the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics, he recently engineered Philadelphia's party to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
The Olympics and the Constitution are all well and good, but this is the Super Bowl. And Lipton, Radio City Music Hall's special events coordinator, is pulling out more stops than usual.
Take the pianos, for example. A world's record was set at the Olympics when 84 grand pianos were brought together in one spot for the closing ceremonies. At the Super Bowl, Lipton's going four better.
'Our 'Something Grand' theme is a spinoff of the year 1988,' he says from his command post at the show's frenetic headquarters at the San Diego Marriott. 'We've come up with a show that's all 88 -- 88 pianos, each with 88 keys, and the 88 greatest legs in show business.'
Radio City Music Hall won out over nine other production companies that submitted half time show proposals to the National Football League in 1986.
'The NFL was looking for a producer who had the ability to do the job and for an interesting concept,' Lipton recalls. Radio City piqued the NFL's interest by vowing to discard the traditional baton-twirling approach and bring big-time entertainment to the gridiron.
'This is going to be the first Super Bowl half-time show for adults,' spokesman Drew Kerr trumpeted when the show was announced. ''It's not going to be fairy-tale characters but real rock 'n' roll Americana.'
Since October, Lipton and his staff have been working full-time to make good on that promise. First, they had to organize a slick production in New York and then transport much of it 3,000 miles to sunny San Diego.
Now that they're here in San Diego -- and the pianos have arrived by truck from the Kimball Organ Company in Jasper, Ind. -- they've got to rehearse 1,100 performers, most of them local talent, to make sure everybody's synchronized and not even a second is wasted.
With a production this ambitious, Lipton admits, a lot can go awry and something undoubtedly will.
'That's part of the nature of an event like this,' he says calmly. 'When you get into something of this magnitude, you're bound to have things go wrong.
'But that's the beauty of it. It's very real; there's a sense of spontaneity.'
However you look at it, the Super Bowl XXII half time show will offer something completely different.
If you're one of those television viewers who gets a kick out of watching outtakes and other embarrassing moments, tune in and maybe you'll see a tractor that's pulling a cart full of grand pianos get stalled on the 40-yard line.
If too many beaming drum majorettes have turned you off to half time shows, this year it may be worth it to stick around after the first half and dance the 'Super Bowl Twist' with Chubby Checker and the Rockettes.
Lipton's dream is that the Super Bowl's estimated worldwide audience of 150 million viewers will get out of their armchairs and move with the groove for the show's grand finale.
'You can even twist the top off another beer bottle if you want,' he says.