The first stop on the UK tour of Chicago is Manchester, England, where an open-ended tour for Kander and Ebb’s award-winning musical revival premiered in September 2001. For freelance sound designer Rick Clarke, this tour marks his 10th version of the production, including engagements in London’s West End, Vienna, Stockholm, Berlin, Basel, and Munich (this is the same production that began at City Center’s Encore Series in New York City before going on to Broadway in 1996. For the record, Scott Lehrer designed the sound for the New York production). Sets are by John Lee Beatty, costumes by William Ivey Long, and lighting by Ken Billington.

"Things have been refined along the way," says the UK-based Clarke, who has designed the sound for over 40 productions in London’s West End, including the recent musical Peggy Sue Got Married. As he designed each subsequent production of Chicago, Clarke tinkered with microphone techniques and loudspeaker groupings to improve the sound quality. "I also understand the show better," he adds.

Clarke uses a fully imaged sound system designed to help the audience locate each individual singer onstage. "The image of the amplified sound stays close to the singer," he explains. "This helps retain the intimacy of the show so the story can be told correctly."

Clarke is also relying on "a precedence system that works for every seat. The acoustic sound of the performer precedes the arrival of the amplified sound by a millisecond so that the ear locks onto the acoustic sound and treats the amplified sound as an echo or reflection," he explains. To make this happen, Clarke splits the audience into 12 to 16 different time zones that can be treated separately through the deployment of the loudspeakers and TX controllers.

This is also why Clarke opts for a distributed cluster of 12 d&b C6 loudspeakers hung in three subclusters on the truss in front of the proscenium. Two d&b E18 bass cabinets are hung here as well, with two B1 bass cabinets hung in the stalls, or orchestra level (wherever there is room, but ideally centered to the stage). Six d&b F1222 loudspeakers are hung along the proscenium, with 36 d&b E3 cabinets used for delay and an additional eight for front fill.

The mixing console is an AMEK recall console with 56 Rupert Eve input modules. The TX controllers and d&b amplifiers sit onstage in a double rack system Clarke finds easy to use for touring. Tascam CD players are used for some click-track support in the big dance numbers and for very few recorded effects. "Most of the effects come from the drummer," notes Clarke. For wireless microphones, Clarke opted for Trance DPA461s with tiny mic heads. The sound equipment was supplied by London-based Orbital Sound.

Photo: Gareth Richman