Talk about pulling double duty: Movin' Out, the new Broadway hit featuring Twyla Tharp's choreography and Billy Joel's music, is equal parts dance theatre and rock concert. Told entirely through song and dance, without dialogue, Movin' Out follows six lifelong friends, from their carefree senior year in high school in 1967 through the turbulent Vietnam era to a sense of peace and acceptance in the late 70s. Both the dancers and the band are onstage the entire time — the full band sits on a riser designed by Santo Loquasto that moves up and down and back and forth — which essentially means two jobs for the sound designer. As such, the project was a collaborative effort between Broadway veteran Peter Fitzgerald and Brian Ruggles, who has long served as Joel's front-of-house mixer.
The sound propelling the show relies on a dual-purpose system — anchored by Meyer Sound M2D Compact Curvilinear Array loudspeakers — to deliver the full impact of Joel's songs (sung by piano man Michael Cavanaugh) while at the same time affording the clarity and multidimensional flexibility needed for a theatre piece. To set a zero-point for sound emanating from the onstage band, the sound designers decided to build a pair each of M2Ds and M3D Line Array loudspeakers into Loquasto's moveable, 50'-long bandstand, dubbed the “travelator” by the production crew.
The balance of the system is also configured primarily with Meyer Sound self-powered systems: MSL-4 horn-loaded long-throw loudspeakers for mezzanine and balcony coverage; CQ-1 wide coverage main cabinets for the back balcony; and a multichannel system for effects, surround, and underbalcony coverage comprised of UPA-1P compact wide coverage loudspeakers and UPM-1P ultra-compact wide coverage loudspeakers. Other gear includes a Heritage 3000 front-of-house console with moving faders, a Cadac sidecar for surround system and playback, Otari Radar for playback, XTA 226s for distribution, delay, and EQ, and Shure and Sennheiser wireless in-ear systems. The system was provided by Sound Associates of New York; Domonic Sack was primarily responsible for the shop engineering and on-site alignment using a SIM® System II FFT Analyzer.
After 30 years of working with Joel, codesigner Ruggles was perhaps the most astute critic of the show's sound. “The show as a whole looks great and sounds great,” he said after the previews. “The M2Ds sound very good, and I like the size of them relative to what they can put out. In this situation, they fit in perfectly.”
For his part, Fitzgerald is similarly pleased with this adventurous commingling of rock concert and theatrical approaches to sound design. “I don't often depart much from my usual way of doing things, but we had a lot of changes for this show,” he notes, referring to the production's early troubles in its Chicago tryout. “I feel we hit it right on the money with all of them.”
The rest of the creative team included lighting designer Don Holder and costume designer Suzy Benzinger. Movin' Out continues its Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.