Really, the best place to start discussing Shrek The Musical is with farts. It doesn’t take long for the star to break wind, and gas of various kinds is passed in the Act II number “I Think I Got You Beat.” Jokes sound designer Peter Hylenski, “The day we had burp and fart auditions was the day we were all wondering where are careers had led us. It was me, Jason, the composer, Jeanine Tesori, and the book and lyrics writer, David Lindsay-Abaire, sitting around a table listening to a computer play back numerous recordings. We played them all through, and if something caught someone’s ear, they’d say ‘that’s a funny fart,’ and we’d classify them. They had to fit musically as well. Jeanine had a hard time with the burps and left the table after a while. It did get a little gross.”
Hylenski says that mic positions on actors were a challenge for this production. “Shrek is such an iconic figure, and his head has to look a certain way,” he says. “Midway through Seattle, we finally settled on something—we built them into his nose and cheek-piece, to the left and right corners of his mouth facing downwards, which gives us two to use for backup—but it was a compromise. The four main characters all wear two mics for redundancy purposes. The ensemble members were trickier. The noses of the bears allowed us to get the mics in a typical position, around the forehead or over the eyes, but the prosthetics, which covered the physical noses of the actors, changed the way they vocalized—we ended up with resident chambers within the nose areas of the characters. If we just got rid of the noses, they wouldn’t be the characters anymore. So we created porous panels within the prosthetics, which are made from material that we use on the speakers that are in the scenery. If the actor puts the nose on a little differently it changes the sound that night, but that’s part of live theatre.” The mics are Sennheiser MKE 1s, which the show beta-tested. “We took delivery of the first batch,” adds Hylenski. “It’s a fantastic product, half the size of what we were using before.”
Outputting the music correctly also fell to Hylenski. Ranging from the fantasy-filled “Big Bright Beautiful World” and “Freak Flag,” to ballads and comic turns, he says, “It’s a blend of traditional musical theatre and rock and roll, with a bit of film score thrown in. Jeanine really wanted it to breathe. The rig is mostly a d&b system, with Meyer Sound components. Its heart is a Meyer/LCS LX-300 system controlled by the Meyer/LSC Cue Console. Overlaid on top of the digital console is a whole slew of analog mic trees and outboard equipment to give it an old-school feeling.”
The show uses numerous ambient effects, from crickets in the swamp to dungeon noises, to bring the world of Shrek closer to the audience (but not too close: a dozen or so “Shrek roars” were tested, with the ones that scared kids discarded). Utilizing a portion of the theatre nicknamed “the vault,” Hylenski also built a mini-studio to house the rhythm section of the 23-piece orchestra, who are not in the pit but have audiovisual links to the conductor in their own acoustically treated space and can play out without drowning out the strings. “It gives the rhythm section a studio sound feel in the theatre, something Jeanine wanted,” he says.
For Hylenski, the show had a fairytale ending: In a relatively rare opportunity for a sound designer, he coproduced the cast album, due out in March.
For the full article, check out the March issue of Live Design.
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