While most people spend maybe a couple of hours preparing for the Fourth of July — buying hot dogs, making patriotic playlists — Macy’s needs a year to get ready. Then again, putting on a fireworks show enjoyed by millions is a bit more complicated than tossing meat on a grill.
On a recent weekday, roughly a dozen workers were putting the finishing touches on the annual 4th of July Firework Show at a secret location on Staten Island — undisclosed for safety reasons, per the NYPD.
The show, airing on NBC, begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday, with performances from Kelly Clarkson, Keith Urban, Ricky Martin and Blake Shelton preceding the pyrotechnics. And when the fireworks start around 9:25 p.m., expect to see something special.
“We’re gonna have peacock fans that just light up, soft and elegant, multiple colors and then suddenly turn the entire river, seven barges wide, each barge with its own color in a pastel chromatic rainbow,” Gary Souza, the designer behind the display for more than 30 years, said. “It’s the first time in the Macy’s show that seven barges did something different.”
Other new effects, per Macy’s, include “pulsing hearts” and a “neon pinwheel.” This year’s show will be over a mile long and serve up more than 75,000 firework shells and special effects.
The planning for the spectacular, Souza said, begins as soon as the previous one ends.
“We talk about the show, we go back, listen, play,” he said. “It’s the first time in the Macy’s show that seven watch videos, listen to the music again, see what happened the year before that really looks like it could play well or what could we enhance.”
Music is a key element of the show, Souza noted, with the visuals and tempo tailored to the score. This year’s music was recorded by the West Point Band.
“We went up and listened to the music, captured the feeling and the spirit and the passion of this patriotic show that we have for this year,” he said. “We work with the Macy’s team to come up with what are the best fireworks that could be blended to that music.”
At the staging location, several Macy’s Firework Show team members were unboxing firework shells, filled with black powder, color-inducing chemicals, iron aluminum and other materials, and lining them up in mortar tubes, which are used to hold the fireworks and launch them into the sky. The crew members work off cue sheets, which they said designate the order of the pyrotechnics, all based on Souza’s design.
Souza, the vice president of the California-based Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, which, per its website, has done the Macy’s display for 35 years, also had a mock aerial firework shell on site that showed the interior of the fireworks he’d designed.
“Out of one side of it, these multicolored stars will present and go away, go to the next phase, present and go away, almost to walk across the burst in the sky,” he said. “This transitions from the left to the right and finally vanishes away. That repeats itself on all the different shells, almost hits the beat of the music as sort of the pulsation during the song ‘Mambo.’”
The fireworks, Souza noted, are designed to tell a story. “It’s a scene, it’s not just a display. All seven barges have a meaning that creates a scene that makes it something really special and the greatest show in America.”