For Tony-winning sound designer Scott Lehrer (South Pacific), the challenge of creating an aural landscape to accompany the seamy, hard-driving world of Lucky Guy was threefold. The show reunites him with director George C. Wolfe, who had worked with him on Angels in America 20 years ago.
“George wanted to get the whole black/white element into the show,” Lehrer says. “You see it right away with the graffiti-strewn curtain that signifies New York in the 1980s, and he wanted to hear it in the music, which would be rough around the edges, with hip-hop beats. Mike McAlary was a big fan of Prince, and George wanted to use some of that, but the licensing fees were gigantic. Ultimately we used music in a very Martin Scorsese way—hip-hop in the first act of the show, for example, with a Bronx montage that has Afrika Bambaataa behind it, and Irish rock for some of the bar scenes with the reporters. I also contributed some music, as did Curtis Moore, who did some of the hip-hop that I didn’t do. We wanted to establish new places scene by scene and move through quickly without heavy underscoring. It was a challenging show for me in that I was much, much more involved in the music part of the show than usual.”
In the tradition of classic “newspaper shows” like The Front Page, the first act of Lucky Guy bustles with colorful characters talking at a fast clip, as McAlary begins his rise to the top. “Audibility is something I pay close attention to,” Lehrer says. “This show has a lot of moving set pieces, like desks and a bar, and they all have microphones. The video monitors that sit on the desks have little holes drilled into them with lavalier mics sitting on the top, in a PCM way. That, and having foot mics in all those moving pieces of scenery in that big, blank set for reinforcement, is a real challenge for our sound mixer, David Stollings, to keep up with. My notes to him were to pick up key lines of dialogue that everyone onstage responds to with a particular microphone in a particular place. We also carefully timed all those microphones to where they are on the stage, so the system doesn’t sound funny with badly timed microphones being brought up.”
Lehrer employs a “fairly extensive [Figure 53] QLab system” on the show. “It’s so easy to keep adding channels, including reverb channels so that certain cues can get reverbed into the house, like the bagpipes and saxophone in the funeral scene. Drew Levy, my associate designer, is almost like a moving lights programmer, doing all the programming while I work on all the meta-issues. Using the Yamaha DM2000 console, I was able to split some of the microphone feeds for some of the effects, like a protest scene that echoes through the side surround speakers to make it seem more alive.
The second act, where the once high-flying columnist, laid low by a car crash and cancer, find redemption, highlights something unusual in a Broadway show—the sound of silence. Projector issues were an obstacle, reduced by having Sonex placed around them on the rail to reduce their noise, and having velour hung upstage to absorb sound from the LCD screens, which have their own fans.
“But after a week of previews, I just didn’t think it was quiet enough,” Lehrer sats. “The problem was the air conditioning. So I started making a stink about it, saying that we had to find a place in the second act of the show to get the Broadhurst as quiet as possible, given all these quiet, dramatic scenes. The air conditioning was covering up the silence.”
The simple solution—turning it off—was initially fraught with the front office, Lehrer says. “The Shuberts didn’t want audiences to get hot, but I said it was just the last half-hour of the show. And it works; the audience lives in that noise, and when it’s taken away it can focus more intensely on the play and the actors. The actors can hear more from the audience, too. The first night we turned the A/C off, Tom Hanks said he could hear actual gasps when Abner Louima related his torture by the police, and I said it was because they were listening more intently to the events onstage.”