Chita Rivera is back once again on Broadway, this time with her own show titled, aptly enough, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life. It's a celebration of the life and career of a singer, dancer, actress, and one of America's most beloved stage performers. For this project, sound designer Scott Lehrer has put together a FOH sound system that stretches the use of digital audio and audio control for a Broadway production.
The core of Lehrer's FOH system consists of a Yamaha PM5D as the main FOH console, with an Aviom YGDAI card for band monitoring, a Yamaha DME64N as FOH matrix/drive cascaded from the PM5D, and a Yamaha DM1000 with two AD8HR mic preamps for drum and percussion submixes. For the touring production of Chicago, he has assembled a similar, though not identical, FOH setup using a Yamaha PM5D as the main FOH console, a Yamaha DME32 as FOH matrix/drive, and a Yamaha DM1000 sidecar. But The Dancer's Life is the first time he's brought this core setup to Broadway.
Loudspeaker systems include: a D-VDOSC center cluster, supported by d&b audiotechnik Q1s for left/right systems; d&bs on stage for the band; and a combination of d&b E3s and E0s for fills and delay, plus EAW JF80s and 100s. The systems are powered by a combination of Camco, d&b, and Yamaha amplifiers.
Pre-production began in February, when Lehrer began working with the show's musical director Mark Hummel, lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, and set designer Loy Arcenas, to understand the setup of the stage and band. In what's becoming more and more common on Broadway these days, the 12 musicians in the band are on stage — there is no pit orchestra — on a platform with eight different levels.
“The staging presented its own issues for communications that we had to work out,” says Lehrer, “mainly video and audio monitoring for all the musicians and the conductor. We use an Aviom personal mix system for audio monitoring, which is great because it interfaces beautifully with the Yamaha PM5D and really simplifies setup.
“The conductor is the keyboard player, so we put two video cameras on him, one for when he's sitting and playing and one for when he's standing and conducting, so we could get good shots of his hands in two different positions,” he continues. “We created a little foot pedal video switcher that allows him to switch cameras. He finds it annoying, but it really works pretty well.”
The original plan for the show was to send it out on tour. But instead, producers opted to open the show at the Old Globe in San Diego for a pre-Broadway tryout, which necessitated Lehrer rethinking the sound system. August was spent building the system in the shop in NYC; the show moved to San Diego in September. Lehrer's design associate for the show, Leon Rothenberg, supervised the build and load-in. The last weeks of October were spent in the shop in NYC. FOH engineer for the Broadway show, Chris Sloan, spent ten days in October at the Globe learning the show from house FOH engineer Eric Carstenson.
Using the delay matrix in the DME64N, Lehrer's able to set levels on the matrix from anywhere in the house. “I can go upstairs to the balcony with my laptop and, via a wireless LAN, control the DME64N in front of an audience. This is a really different way of working. In the past, I'd be running up and down the aisles, using a walkie-talkie checking levels.
“The DME is a really great way to get sound designers to work on shows and look at controlling their front-of-house in a new way,” he continues. “It's a much more comprehensive, all-in-one box solution.” Even with other digital consoles, he notes, you still need an external drive rack. “We have a rack that contains the two DME64's, a switch-over box, a computer for programming, and a computer that runs the software for the DM1000 and PM5D. That's our drive rack.”
And, as with all digital desks, the producers are in love with its footprint. “A typical analog desk,” says Lehrer, “can take up as many as 16 seats. At $100 a seat, that's a lot of box office to give up every week. For every pair of seats you can give back to the producers, you're giving them close to a couple thousand dollars a week in income. Every seat counts in a Broadway theatre.”