Broadway Sound

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



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The actors employ headworn DPA 4061 lavalier microphones with Sennheiser 5212 transmitters and 3532 receivers. “For the woman who played Nelly, because she has that famous song, ‘Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,’ we had to get a water-resistant microphone,” Lehrer describes. “Countryman makes a lavalier that is very water repellant. So we have two transmitters on her, both with Countryman lavaliers, which resist water much better than the DAP 4061s. At least one of them generally works when she comes out of the shower.” Lehrer also double-mikes the character of Emile, an operatic baritone, with a second lavalier on his chest to capture the rich bass frequencies that the head-worn mic misses.

Lehrer favors d&b audiotechnik C7 speakers, which comprise the center cluster. “These are my favorite speakers to use,” Lehrer says. “They're incredibly neutral, beautiful-sounding speakers.” He also chose d&b Q-Series amps for left/right and main delay systems.

A ‘Wicked’ System

Wicked, the early story of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, continues to be one of Broadway's most popular and long-running shows, a best-seller since its opening in 2003. Fitting the size of its popularity, the show is in one of the largest theaters on Broadway, the 1,933-seat Gershwin. Designer Tony Meola has a lot of air to move, so he chose larger Meyer loudspeakers to reach the back of the house. He finds Meyer speakers and the Meyer SIM equalization system get him the most real and natural sound. “I'm known as the more natural sound designer of my peers,” says Meola. “I believe that the strongest thing we do in the theater is live, and the more technology we put between the actor and the audience member, the farther away we get from what we do the best.”

The P.A. is split into two systems, one for the vocals and another for the orchestra, as he has found that each group sounds better with different loudspeakers. Also, Meola wanted the instruments' sounds to come from the orchestra pit rather than over the proscenium, and the vocals to come from center stage where the actor stands rather than from left and right. “I blend the line arrays over them and the front-fills under them, and sometimes a little bit from left and right so that the image is more on the stage,” Meola explains. For vocals, he hangs Meyer M1D line arrays at the center cluster, and places M2D split line arrays up and down stage left and -right for the orchestra. Meyer UPM1Ps and 2Ps are hung to provide fills under the balcony. There are additional UPM2Ps used as delay units for the vocals hung in the balcony. In the past, Meola would have used numerous Meyer UP-As or CQ-1 or 2 speakers to reach the back of the theater, but line arrays have a further reach, rendering the extra loudspeakers unnecessary. To EQ the system, he uses Meyer Galileos, and the Meyer RMS system to monitor the cabinets.

Meola uses two analog consoles for mixing — a 58-slot and a 32-slot Cadac J-Type. The console is highly flexible because the output modules are a VCA, a submaster above that, and a dual matrix. “The move into using VCAs is very easy the way it's cued,” says Meola. “You can change aux send, pre, post, change EQ — all with the push of a button. And the windows that open and close are very user-friendly.”

Meola uses the first Cadac console for the vocal mic, the computer control modules, 14 VCAs that change during the show and reverb returns. The second has mostly orchestra and sound effects. Drums and percussion are submixed on a Yamaha DM-1000.

The orchestra's monitors are mixed on a 56-input Yamaha DM2000. It's a big show, so many of the musicians, particularly those with electronic instruments, are using individual Aviom monitors that allow them to control their own mixes. The pit lacks space because there is scenery in it, so Meola has the percussionist and harpist miked remotely in two separate dressing rooms. (Also, it's very difficult to mike a harp without picking up everything else in the space.) “Very often, scenic designers take orchestra pit space as if it were stage space,” Meola says. “You can weigh what's worth it and what's not. In the case of Wicked, it certainly helps the story.”

And helping the story and its plotline — as well as its connection to the audience — are demanded to keep show running. Therefore, it's no easy feat what these sound engineers are able to accomplish — despite small theaters, demands from actors and directors, and competing with set space — using their own artistic creativity and technology prowess to create compelling and exciting sound designs.

Gaby Alter is a New York City-based writer.

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