DARKNESS hangs over the stage, slowly a red and orange glow reveals band members and back-up singers taking their places on platforms. The backdrop resembles sunset-coloured clouds on the horizon. Strains of Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me creep into the auditorium. The audience is holding its breath, waiting for Elton John to appear. In a burst of colour, the legendary rocker and piano are lifted up and over the audience. The audience screams and the applause is thunderous, as he launches into the song he re-recorded in a duet with George Michael. This has occurred in countless cities around the world since the rock legend began ''The One'' tour 18 months ago. The spectacular beginning is indicative of the 21/2-hour performance, according to Australian tour promoter Harley Medcalf. After his dates Down Under, Elton will take the stage for four nights at the Hongkong Coliseum this week. The hottest ticket in the territory, the designer-label ex travaganza has had Australian and New Zealand critics calling it a tour de force. Audiences will not see Elton cavorting around the stage in bizarre costumes as he used to. Glued to his piano, pounding on the keys, he pours out his 20-year musical history. ''He is one of the ultimate showmen in the business,'' Medcalf said. ''When the audience responds, he's off and running. He's a very powerful performer.'' Whether the usually staid Hongkong crowds will be able to provide the impetus Elton needs, remains to be seen. In Australia, he played The One, Philadelphia Freedom, I'm Still Standing, Candle in the Wind, Daniel, Sad Songs and his Freddie Mercury tribute, The Show Must Go On, to name a few. Three to four encores can be expected, during which Sacrifice is certain to be played. And to ensure everyone gets a glimpse, Elton's piano is on a dais that lifts into the air and rotates. He plays facing different parts of the audience during the show. On stage with Elton is an eight-member band: two keyboard players, a bass player, guitarist, drummer and three back-up singers. Although many of the backstage crew have been with him since his early days, the band is relatively new. Only guitarist Davey Johnstone hails from the 1970s. From the Gianni Versace-designed sets and costumes to state-of-the-art lighting, every detail of the show has been attended to with painstaking care. Nowhere to be seen are the flamboyant costumes and crazy wigs, or the trademark hats and glasses. Kilos lighter, boasting silky locks and clad in sleek designer togs, the Elton of 1993 is the picture of elegance. Although there are only three costume changes during the show, Elton has a vast array at his fingertips depending on his mood. The overriding theme is black and gold. The lighting flows from the music as a result of the specialised ''Vari'' system. Set up on trusses moving about the stage, the lights change the dimension and depth of the set.