Battling a cold, Katy Perry would rather spend a rare day off at home in bed. Instead, she's rehearsing with dancers, some of them on roller skates, at a soundstage in Culver Studios.
Her California Dreams world tour, a critical and commercial hit since its launch overseas Feb. 20, opens a U.S. run in Atlanta tonight. A few days earlier, Perry isn't just fine-tuning this fanciful feast of pop hits, whimsical costumes, dancing gingerbread men, fireworks, confectionery sets and candy smell-o-vision. She's revamping it.
"It has room to grow," she says. "A typical tour is three months, but we're going to November. It's nice to be able to get out of the same same same. That's the fun thing about success. Now I can say, 'I want a machine that simulates the whipped-cream boobs from the California Gurls video.' I just want to keep things fresh and keep myself excited."
Perry, 26, certainly kept crowds excited in Europe, Australia and Asia. London's The Daily Telegraph dubbed the show "a megawatt jukebox musical." The Guardian's take: "For all her gimlet-eyed calculation, Perry packs more wit and charisma into her eyelash extensions than most pop stars manage in a career. ... (She) makes you actually believe in the ridiculous transformative spangle of pop music all over again."
That Perry wants to recalibrate a box-office smash is testament to her moxie and enterprise. She compares it to the drive that went into last year's Teenage Dream, which sold 1.5 million copies, spawned sales of 10.2 million digital tracks and ended debate that 2008 debut One of the Boys was a fluke driven by sassy I Kissed a Girl.
"The focus now is the live show and making it as big an event as the album has been," Perry says. "I'm looking for what's beyond the trend. I have a nose for things like that."
Sniffling, she tears a foot of toilet paper from the roll in her hand.
"This is for my nose," she says with a feeble grin. No tissue could be found in the cavernous hall. "I feel like someone has taken me by my ankles and shaken me upside down."
With no makeup and her dark hair pulled back, the blue-eyed pop star appears strikingly pretty, albeit more fragile than the saucy sex kitten in her kaleidoscopic videos. Known for her extravagantly kooky fashions, she's low-key today in a striped hoodie, knee-length sweatpants and sneakers.
"It does get a bit grueling," she says of life on the road. "You just have to carry on. I tell myself these people haven't seen the show six times. It may be their first and only impression."
Reasonable prices and pent-up demand (Perry last toured in 2009) are fueling ticket sales, says Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni.
"This is her moment in the sun," he says, noting her ambitious gamble of moving up to arenas in an economic downturn. "There's a lot of color and flash onstage, and the music has gotten a lot of exposure. Her overseas business has been incredible."
To help shape her "candy on crack" vision of California Dreams, Perry enlisted Baz Halpin, who directed Pink's Funhouse tour. "Pink's show had such a great balance of fun and heart," Perry says. "It was above and beyond any pop show I'd ever seen.
"Halfway through production of my show, I changed everything and developed a story line and symbolism. I gave it a soft narrative that anyone around the world could understand, and I still did the candy overload, even made the place smell like candy."