London set to stage OlympicsRower Matthew Pinsent lights the cauldron on the queen's barge Gloriana which carried the Olympic flame on the Thames Friday.
Fri, July 27, 2012 - 9:38 AM
London (CNN) -- Few shows can claim such an audience. As the dramatic spectacle of the Olympics Games opening ceremony in London unfolds Friday night, perhaps a billion people around the world will be glued to their television sets.
Tens of thousands more are lucky enough to have a seat inside the Olympic Stadium, the centerpiece of the Olympic Park in east London.
Dubbed Isles of Wonder, it promises to be quite a show -- but then it needs to be.
The opening ceremony, attended not only by thousands of athletes but also Queen Elizabeth II and more than 100 visiting heads of state and foreign dignitaries, sets the scene for the Games to come.
And the organizers of the London Games are well aware they have a tough act to follow after the Beijing extravaganza four years ago, which featured thousands of drummers, acrobats, martial artists and dancers performing under a light display at the soaring "Bird's Nest" Stadium.
So what can those watching the ceremony this time around expect to see?
Some details of the £27 million show have been released already, but many more remain a closely guarded secret.
Keeping a secret this big isn't easy, though, when there are thousands of performers and technicians involved, not to mention the audiences for two dress rehearsals this week.
A Twitter hashtag, #savethesurprise, started by Olympic organizers to appeal to those in the know not to spoil the show for others, has been embraced by many, although not all.
Giant screens also displayed the message within the stadium during the rehearsals. Those who opted not to play along have incurred the social-media wrath of many who do want to "save the surprise."
What the organizers have revealed already is that the show, masterminded by artistic director Danny Boyle, best known for the Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionare," draws its inspiration from Shakespeare's "The Tempest."
It will begin at 9 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET) with the tolling of the largest harmonically tuned bell in Europe, cast by the nearby Whitechapel Foundry, which also produced Big Ben and the Liberty Bell. The sound will echo the peals of bells which rang out across the country for three minutes Friday morning, Big Ben among them, to set the nation's Olympic spirit racing.
The show's opening scene -- dubbed "Green and Pleasant," after a line from poet William Blake's Jerusalem -- will then unfurl, presenting an idyllic view of the British countryside.
The elaborate set will comprise rolling hills, fields and rivers, complete with picnicking families, sport being played on a village green and real farmyard animals.
These will include ducks, geese, 12 horses, three cows, 70 sheep and three sheepdogs to keep them in line.
The national flower of each of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom will also be represented -- the rose of England, the Scottish thistle, Welsh daffodil and flax from Northern Ireland -- organizers say.
In case the heavens don't open for real, Boyle has lined up fake clouds to shade his pastoral scene.
It's expected that three more set-pieces will follow, including a special sequence celebrating the "best of British," featuring volunteer performers from the NHS, or National Health Service.
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