Broadway Sound

Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Gaby Alter



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Wicked sees sound designer Tony Meola spec’ing a Meyer system and two Cadac analog boards.

Wicked sees sound designer Tony Meola spec’ing a Meyer system and two Cadac analog boards.

Another issue Arditti and associate designers John Owens and Tony Smolenski faced was the Imperial Theatre's low stage, which meant that the Meyer UPM-1P front-fills hit the audience at chest level. “Effectively, this means that the front-fills are useless for row B and anywhere further back. I use the downfill [11 Meyer M'elodies] from the center hang in the center of the orchestra to provide the main vocal coverage, whereas I would normally prefer to rely on the front-fills to pull the image down. Similarly, at the sides of the orchestra, most of the vocal energy comes from the main vocal line arrays on the prosceniums [also M'elodies], whereas I would have preferred the front-fills to pull the image toward center.”

Down in the pit, the set machinery took up a fair amount of space. The musical director wanted to keep the band in one place to maintain good communication, so there was no “remoting” of instruments as often happens on Broadway. “The stage extends asymmetrically over the pit, too,” Arditti explains. “Not too much live sound gets out, and we ran the risk of trapping all the sound from the instruments in a confined space. So I designed the pit to be more like a sound studio than a live performance space. We employed a lot of acoustic absorption and screens between sections. We also created two sealed booths for the percussion and drum kit.”

The musicians have Aviom A-16R personal mixers, which are submixed with a Yamaha M7CL-48 under the stage. Arditti is pleased with the band's sound quality. “Needless to say, it's not the natural, unamplified sound of a classical orchestra, or even a jazz big band, but it works for Elton John's music and Martin Koch's arrangements,” Arditti says with a laugh.

A Rock System for ‘Hair’

Maintaining the energy of a rock concert while keeping sonic clarity was job Number One for Nevin Steinberg and Sten Severson of Acme Sound Partners LLC, designer and associate designer for the Tony Award-winning revival of Hair at the Al Hirschfield Theater. This version actually began as a concert in Central Park in the summer of 2007 to celebrate the show's 40th anniversary.

“The concert vibe and aesthetic never left the piece; it became part of its DNA from the moment it began,” Steinberg says.

Part of that vibe involves maintaining contact between musicians and cast. Unlike many other Broadway shows, the band is situated onstage and the actors are often found dancing on the bandstand or playing percussion. In addition, the cast moves about the house, inciting protest, asking for money, flirting, etc. “It's about people interacting with one another,” Severson adds. “The fourth wall, forget it — there's no separation between audience and cast.”

The Hirschfield Theater was chosen with this in mind. It is built in such a way that the actors can get directly from the stage to the box seats and the balcony without leaving sight of the rest of the house. Also, the audience has access to the stage, where they are invited to dance with the cast at the end of the show.

Acme wanted a high-definition, high-powered system to generate the rock concert energy while preserving clarity of vocals and lyrics. To this end, the center cluster above the proscenium (covering front of house) comprises high-powered L-Acoustics ARCs and high-powered dV-DOSC, additional ARCs for band reinforcement and Meyer Sound CQ-1s. “All the supplemental systems are also capable of high SPL and high resolution,” notes Steinberg. Rounding out the system are Meyer 600 HP subs (floor, rear balconies), L-Acoustics ARCs (proscenium, covering the upstairs audience) and Meyer MICA line array systems (middle of the theater). Hanging off to the sides of the balconies, filling the box seats and areas beyond them, are L-Acoustics MTD108s and MTD112s.

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