Music Appreciation

The Lion King may have a whole menagerie of wild animals traveling down the aisles to the stage during the show's opening number, but The Music Man has an entire marching band. Well, maybe not an actual marching band, but at least the sound of one, and for the audience, it’s equally as stirring. For the opening of the current Broadway revival of the Meredith Willson classic, director Susan Stroman wanted it to sound as though a band, marching to the beat of a drum cadence, was coming off the street, into the Neil Simon Theatre, down the aisle, and onto the stage. At the moment the music ended and the "band" had reached the stage, the conductor’s baton would go up, the curtain would open, and the real band, onstage and not in the pit, would continue playing.

It was up to sound designer Jonathan Deans to make it happen. "Early on, we went into the room where the band was rehearsing, and recorded the band right then and there," he explains. "We didn’t need to have a studio-quality recording, because we wanted it to sound like it really was coming down the street. We then put the recording on an Akai DR8d hard-disk recorder, and then using Level Control Systems, fed it into a rear Meyer UPA-1P self-powered speaker. And then after a few seconds we send out a SMPTE signal, which LCS reads, locks in, and then moves the sound to the EAWJK80 surround speakers around the auditorium. So it kind of creeps along the wall, and ends up going to another UPA-1P in the pit. And we’ve focused the audience to go to the front of the house and look for the orchestra in the pit. The baton flies up in the air, and everyone is looking dead center, and then they open the curtain, and it all shifts to the stage."

As soon as the drum cadence begins, Deans turns on the new LCS VRAS acoustical enhancement system, which creates a six—second multiple echo in the room. "What we’re trying to do," he explains, "is make it sound like a street sound, with multiple reflections traveling down a street. And we just leave it on that setting while the music plays, and then the moment it goes to them playing live onstage, we reduce it down to a one—second reverb time." (VRAS is used throughout the rest of the show, proving especially effective on the barbershop quartet numbers and the ballads.)

As the music reaches the halfway point in the theatre, the real drummer, in a room behind the orchestra pit, starts to play along with the recorded cadence via a click track and Deans’ own Viz-Tones, a device that uses flashing LED lights to keep remote musicians on the beat. The audience hears no prerecorded music, except for the initial drum cadence and the last couple of bars of the initial opening.

"The beauty of that opening," Deans notes, "with the band onstage, is that it’s totally acoustical. They’re playing, and it’s just the raw band. That’s the difference of a band’s sounds going straight to the audience as opposed to the awful sound you have when the band is put in the pit. If you take that band and put them in the pit and have them play the same thing, it would sound like mushy peas."

That naturally occurring sound was used for optimal effect for the show’s finale as well, when the entire cast dons marching-band uniforms, grabs an instrument, and come out playing "76 Trombones" all by themselves, without the help of the full orchestra. "They showed me in the rehearsal room what they were going to do, and everyone looked at me and said, ‘There you go Jonathan, work that one out!’ And I thought to myself, actually, aside from keeping certain people in tempo together when they go out onstage, just the raw beauty of these actors learning to play this song on these instruments should be enough. It really shouldn’t be touched by me. So I just gave the three drummers onstage in-ear monitors so that they could hear the drums in the pit to keep time, and that was it. Just to have those performers playing onstage, totally natural, with the sound coming directly from the instrument–what a joy that is in the Broadway theatre."

Stroman stressed to Deans that The Music Man should be comfortable to listen to. "We decided it should be as natural as possible, but that it also should be something that you didn’t have to tune in and listen to, rather that it was something that was delivered to you," he explains. "The show is much more presentational than naturalistic; the scenery and the rest of the design touch on reality, but we weren’t trying to make it a real version of the city. So we wanted it to be natural sounding, but not something that you had to struggle to hear. The fact that Susan is a director and a choreographer means that she automatically wants the dance number so have more punch, relative to what they are normally. All choreographers love to have their dance numbers have more punch, but because Susan is both director and choreographer, it’s not all coming out of left field, but is more of a unified structure of the sound concept."

Hindering Deans’ efforts to add that needed punch were William Ivey Long’s wonderfully elaborate hats. "Everybody wears hats in this show," he says. "And with straw boaters, the voice reflects off the rim, and so the microphone hears the direct sound and then the reflection, which is actually traveling further since it has gone to the top of the hat and then bounced back down again. So it’s like hearing the voice twice, which causes bad frequency selections right at the source. And William was really, really good about it. He did all the things that we had discussed to correct it, and he got to the point where he started to notice it himself. He was able to say, ‘Oh I think we missed a bit of felt, let’s fix that.’ So I say, hats off to William! And hopefully next time they can stay off."


A Sunny Disposition

Sometimes lighting a show is just that simple: providing plenty of light for the stage. In designing the lighting for the Broadway revival of The Music Man, Peter Kaczorowski tried to keep things as bright and cheery as the musical’s natural disposition.

"It’s a pretty sunny musical, so there was really no reason to be sturm und drang about it," he says. "It never crossed my mind to be anything other than fairly sunny and optimistic. And I did that just by making sure everybody who was speaking or singing was perfectly in focus, and that you could see all of their facial expressions. It was a very well-revealed show. Even in moments of evening beauty, there was complete visibility. I tried to make people look as sanguine and healthy as possible."

Still, even such a clear palette gave the designer room for range. "In the beginning, I did a slightly more blanched look, something that was a little more color-free," he explains. "The idea was that here were these staunch Iowans, sort of set in their ways, possibly even rude and kind of unimaginative and unconnected to the more emotional parts of themselves. And then it gets a little more rosy and romantic and kind of lush by the end of the evening, as Harold brings some color to their lives."

The production is so light there’s not even a single blackout; scene shifta were often segues involving Tom Lynch’s elaborate scenery. "It was a challenge to make the scenes interesting to look at, both from a shifting point of view and also in terms of keeping the story flowing," Kaczorowski says. "Several times we pulled to characters pantomiming some act, and focused on them while the scenery moved into the scene. That was something I kept working hard at, to make them poetic and pretty and as nicely developed as possible. And there were a lot of them, something like 10 each act."

Lynch also specified a yellow floor for the production, which provided Kaczorowski with a challenge during the nighttime scenes. "It was a beautiful yellow floor, particularly for the daytime scenes. But during the romantic evening scenes, particularly during the footbridge scene near the end of the show [for the song "Till There Was You"], I found out that it takes a lot of blue to make a yellow floor become an evening floor. It was hard to make it dark blue and preserve it, particularly when other actors come onstage; all of those things have consequences and then all of a sudden it’s not blue anymore. But I think I was able to achieve that."

Aside from the blue, Kaczorowski said the dominant color for the production was clear. "I’m not being facetious," he says. "There was a lot of clear area light. The backlight templates scrolled, and they were clear a lot. The buildings had clear templates on them often, and the range between 30% or full on the dimmer had quite a range of yellow and clear and whiter white." The designer notes that he also used a lot of warm bastard ambers, and a lot of pale flesh pink, Lee-110, Rosco R-33, and GAM 106 and 105, among others.

Kaczorowski’s rig consisted of 144 ETC 26° Source Fours, one-hundred-twenty-six 19° Source Fours, one-hundred-ten 36° Source Fours, twenty-seven 10° Source Fours, and twenty-three 50° Source Fours, with 16 Source Four PAR NSPs and 16 Source Four PAR MFLs, all at 575W. There were sixteen 1,000W Altman PAR-64 NSPs, twenty 4" 300W Arri fresnels; color scrollers were Wybron Colorams, followspots (three) were Lycian 3kW xenons, and fog came via two MDG Atmospheres. Moving lights consisted of 12 High End Studio Color® automated wash luminaires, 10 Studio Spot™ automated luminaires, and 38 Cyberlight® Turbos. The show was run on an ETC Obsession 1500 and a Flying Pig Whole Hog II.

The aforementioned moving lights were used primarily to light the houses Lynch built. "We didn’t know when we walked into the theatre exactly where those houses were going to be," Kaczorowski explains. "We sort of had a scheme of where the positions were going to be, but of course once in the theatre they get tweaked around–a little bit of a turn here, a little more optical light there. So some conventionals, but we relied an awful lot on the Studio Spots to get the buildings lit properly in just about all cases."

The Cyberlights came in handy on the opening scene on the train for the patter number "Rock Island." "That was a hard scene because we ended up having to make the motion that gave you the sense that the train was moving," Kaczorowski says. "Originally we had planned to use projection screens with film of cornfields going by, but that went the way of most budgets. So we did that with the Cyberlights. It was this great random template moving back and forth, built by Josh Weitzman, our fabulous moving light programmer. He worked out some interesting, amorphous motion that was very directional when it needed to be and also had the occasional zooming fixture going by that gave the sense of speed. We accelerated with the acceleration of music, and we slowed down when it slowed down, and did sort of a jerk and a back-and-forth when they hit the brakes. I think we found a balance where you got the gag."

A trick worthy of Harold Hill himself.


Music Man Lighting

Lighting designer: Peter Kaczorowski
Assistant lighting designers: Philip S. Rosenberg, Paul Miller
Production electrician: Jon Lawson

Lighting equipment (partial)

(27) ETC 10º Source Four 575Ws
(126) ETC 19º Source Four 575Ws
(144) ETC 26 Source Four 575Ws
(110) ETC 36º Source Four 575Ws
(23) ETC 50º Source Four 575Ws
(16) ETC Source Four 575W PAR NSPs
(16) ETC Source Four 575W PAR MFLs
(16) Altman PAR-64 1,000W NSPs
(20) 4" Arri I 300W fresnels
(2) City Theatrical 2kW tubular ripple projectors
(6) L&E 500W Frosted Mini-10s
(29) L&E 6'-3"/30–light/three–circuit Q75/12V MR16 EYC Mini-Strips
(14) L&E 6'-3"/30–light/three–circuit Q75/12V MR16 EYJ (NFL)Mini-Strips
(7) Altman 6'-0"/12–light/three–circuit R40 Flood 300W Strips
(6) Altman 7’-0"/nine–light/three–circuit PAR-64 MFL 1,000W Strips
(12) High End Version S Studio Colors
(12) City Theatrical Studio Color spill rings
(10) High End Studio Spots
(38) High End Turbo Cyberlights
(34) City Theatrical Lower Cyber sound baffles
(27) City Theatrical Cyber mirrors
(27) City Theatrical Cyber long yokes
(3) Lycian Model 1293 X3K 3kW xenon followspots
(58) Wybron Coloram Fours w/backplate for ETC Source Four 26°-19° lekos
(52) Wybron Coloram 7.5"s, 20 w/backplate for ETC Source Four PARs , 32 w/backplate for ETC Source Four 36°-50° lekos
(4) EFX Plus2 large-format gobo wheel rotators
(8) EFX Plus2 metal effects disks
(4) ETC 36º 575W Source Four lekos w/custom-milled bodies
(2) MDG Atmosphere haze machines
(160) Tophats for Wybron Coloram Fours
(50) Tophats for Wybron Coloram 7.5"s
(10) Tophats for ETC Source Four PARs
(10) 3" Tophats for ETC Source Four lekos
(10) Half Hats for ETC Source Four lekos
(6) Half Hats for ETC Source Four PARs
(6) 3" Half Hats for ETC Source Four lekos
(12) 3" Color Extenders for ETC Source Four lekos
(170) "A" size template holders for ETC Source Four lekos
(24) ETC Source Four iris kits
(4) ETC 5º Source Four lens barrels
(12) ETC 10º Source Four lens barrels
(12) ETC 19º Source Four lens barrels
(12) ETC 26º Source Four lens barrels
(12) ETC 36º Source Four lens barrels
(12) ETC 50º Source Four lens barrels
(8) ETC Source Four PAR VNSP Lenses
(8) ETC Source Four PAR NSP lenses
(8) ETC Source Four PAR MFL lenses
(8) ETC Source Four PAR WFL lenses
(1) ETC Obsession 1500 software version 2.4.2 w/ETC-NET full remote node w/alphanumeric keyboard
(2) Flying Pig Whole Hog II lighting console software version 3.2.1
(5) Hi-Density Racks of 96 x 2.4kW dimmers
(1) Hi-Density Rack of 48 x 2.4kw dimmers
(1) rack of ETC 12 x 1.2kW dimmers
(1) rack of ETC 12 x 6kW dimmers
(1) 96–channel transmitter
(10) 12A standard dimmers
(10) eight–channel receivers