Broadway Sound

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



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For South Pacific, Scott Lehrer took a more “pre-reinforcement” approach.

For South Pacific, Scott Lehrer took a more “pre-reinforcement” approach.

JF80 speakers are used as surrounds, filling in from the sides and rear. These are used for sound and special effects, as well as to sweeten the acoustic signature of the room electronically with reverb or delay. “Also, because some of the action takes place in and amongst the seating areas, we sometimes reinforce the signal from those speakers in a mix with the main sound system to envelop the audience in the sound of the vocals,” Steinberg says.

Because of the show's loud rock sound, there is an entire subsystem of speakers pointed toward the cast and band as monitors, including Meyer UM-1s. But as stage space is limited, Acme also uses many smaller speakers, some built into the floor of the stage, some flown overhead and from the sides, and some distributed in and among the band.

Every cast member has a DPA 4066 headworn boom mic with Sennheiser SK5012 and 5212 transmitters mated with Sennheiser EM3532 receivers. The mics are fairly small and lightweight, which Severson says helps withstand the intense choreography. It also frees the mics from interaction with hats, unlike head-worn lavalier mics. And because the vocals are sent back to the stage (a somewhat unusual practice for Broadway), the headworn mics put themselves close to the sound source, decreasing the chances of feedback.

Un-Reinforcing ‘South Pacific’

Uptown at Lincoln Center, audiences have been flocking to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre for the lavish revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic South Pacific, complete with the show's original 32-piece orchestration. “[The production team] wanted to feature that and feature it in a way that harkened back to the old style of doing musicals, pre-reinforcement,” says designer Scott Lehrer, who won the first Tony for the show's sound design in 2008. “Everybody wanted it to be a quieter, more intimate show than is typical on Broadway these days.” Lehrer points out that today's audiences expect a sound that's far beyond what can be achieved without reinforcement. So the goal was to use available technology to make the audience perceive the sound as more natural than most Broadway shows.

One trick was in miking the orchestra. Lehrer and associate designer Leon Rothenberg used one set of microphones to close-mike the instruments — the typical Broadway procedure — for the big production numbers. But they used a second set of area mics to get a more lush, natural sound on many of the other songs. Sometimes the two sets were mixed for various effects. For instance, in a highly dramatic moment during the overture, production mixer Marc Salzberg switches from the area mics to the close mics as the stage opens to reveal the orchestra to the audience, making the sound feel suddenly more present.

The area mics are mainly Sennheiser MTH8040s, similar to the Sheffield CM Series used for classical miking. The close mics include Royer 121s on the brass, Sennheiser MKH40 condensers on the reeds and Sennheiser MKH800s on the strings — “a medium-diaphragm, multipattern microphone with a beautiful sound,” Lehrer describes.

Another of Lehrer's techniques is his extensive use of surround reverb. The Beaumont is a fairly dead house acoustically, so 15 years ago Lincoln Center installed the SIAP artificial reverberant system, with more than 100 speakers placed on the theater's ceiling and rear walls. Lehrer bypassed the SIAP system and wired the speakers to the 10 outputs from two Lexicon 960 reverbs in surround mode. “I was feeding somewhere around 85 speakers with two different surround room algorithms,” Lehrer says. “It was a very rich sound.”

The 1,100-seat Beaumont has a thrust stage rather than a proscenium, creating an added challenge with the delay systems as the actors are being tracked in more 3-D space. “There's literally hundreds of cues that mixer Marc Salzberg runs to change the delay times on the actors so that the audience perceives that the sound is coming out of their mouths as they move around the stage,” Lehrer says. For delay and EQ, Lehrer uses Yamaha DME64s: “It has delay matrixes so you can delay every point of the matrix — every group can be delayed to every output. So a vocal group can get delayed separately to every speaker in the theater.” On most shows, Lehrer uses two DMEs, but the number of speakers used in the show was so big that for the first time he used four DMEs. (Lehrer estimates that the average Broadway show has 50 or 60 speakers, but he's working with about double that number, including the SIAP speakers.)

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