Lestat, based on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, is a musical scored by the inimitable Sir Elton John and his longtime collaborator, Bernie Taupin. The elaborate production’s complex soundtrack is rendered by a sound system built around a powerful LCS Audio Matrix3™ digital audio system and an extensive complement of self-powered Meyer Sound loudspeakers in an innovative configuration.
Lestat premiered at San Francisco’s Geary Theatre, where it employed a multifaceted production that supplemented the usual costume, set, and lighting elements with video and multimedia elements and a dynamic surround sound design by Jonathan Deans. Often cited for his design work on numerous Cirque du Soleil® productions, Deans has also had a long history mixing and then sound designing for musical theatre, from Ragtime to Kiss Me, Kate.
Meyer Sound self-powered systems are typically Deans’ first choice for his sound designs. “The ongoing fulfillment of my high expectations for a speaker and the guaranteed delivery of its specifications are very important if I am to concentrate on creative production and not be distracted by restrictions resulting from loudspeaker problems,” Deans says. “I can’t be losing creation time to the technical side of my job, and Meyer Sound products grant me this creativity.”
In order to meet both musical and dramatic needs, which included dreamy “swoon” sequences following vampire attacks, Deans specified a complex sound system utilizing an unusual three-system loudspeaker configuration.
Deans designed a main system to carry dialog and effects, consisting of 26 M1D ultra-compact curvilinear array loudspeakers and six 700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofers: an array of four M1D cabinets to cover the mezzanine and upper balcony, below which is an array of five cabinets for the orchestra and lower seating. A center cluster of eight more M1D units provides coverage to the middle of the mezzanine and orchestra areas.
“The M1Ds have been fantastic for us,” says FOH mixer Simon Matthews. “We were allotted a certain amount of space to put our speakers behind the proscenium, and without having a line array of that size we wouldn’t have been able to get nearly the coverage we have.”
The second system is intended to act as a “virtual orchestra shell” reinforcing the 18-piece orchestra situated in a mostly covered pit. Mounted above and below the M1D arrays on either side of the proscenium are three UPJ-1P compact VariO™ loudspeakers, with two more along the proscenium’s top. Four M1D cabinets are used individually for frontfill from the stage lip. Each of these loudspeakers receives a separate feed.
Nearly all of the speakers around the proscenium are hidden behind a large set piece that looks like velvet drapes and covers the entire proscenium, extending into the hall.
The third system is for surround and under-balcony coverage, constituted primarily of UPM-1P ultra-compact wide coverage loudspeakers. Three rings of four UPM-1P cabinets each provide coverage of the orchestra area, with additional UPM-1P and UPJ-1P units along the sides. This system carries a combination of the main and “orchestra shell” mixes, which poses an interesting challenge. The main and shell systems are each aligned in time relative to their respective proscenium speakers. In order to maintain these alignments while feeding the surrounds, outputs from each system are delayed an amount appropriate for that system, then the feeds are mixed in the Matrix3 and fed to the surrounds, thus maintaining time integrity for both systems.
Matthews feels the virtual shell concept works well. “We’re trying to give the audience a little bit of the sense that they are hearing the sound coming naturally out of an open orchestra pit,” he explains. “It’s a way that we can add level without the audience hearing it as a point source, as you would with a line array.” Matthews is enthusiastic about the success of the UPJ-1P in this role, saying “The UPJs are my favorite Meyer Sound products to date.” In practice, the three systems are not used in a strictly mutually exclusive fashion, explains Deans. “The trick is to use the three systems as one and be unrestricted as to what sound comes out of which speaker at what level, at the same time allowing complete dynamic control by Simon,” he says. “One should never design a system that denies the director his or her vision, or, more importantly, denies oneself the opportunity to be creative.”
The production actually uses two Matrix3 systems, the main one built on an engine composed of seven LX-300 processing frames, and a backup system consisting of five frames. All inputs and outputs run through a cross-switcher, allowing Matthews to instantaneously switch to the backup system in the event of a major problem.
The Matrix3 provides just about the entire signal path, mixing 18 live Sennheiser RF microphone inputs from the stage with 46 live mic and line inputs from the orchestra pit and 24 Wild Tracks™ hard-disk playback channels for effects, then routing the mixes to multiple outputs, while supplying dynamics processing and equalization for each input and output. Everything is driven from a cue list constructed in the system’s CueStation™ programming and control software, and adjusted in real-time by Matthews on a CueConsole™ control surface. The backup system has its own minimal CueConsole setup. The cue list is triggered by MIDI commands generated by the lighting and projection consoles in order to ensure precise timing on cues that must be tightly synched to onstage actions, primarily vampire bite sequences.
In a production as complicated as Lestat, Matthews has come to very much appreciate the total adaptability of the Matrix3 system. “The programmability and flexibility is where LCS Audio’s system shines more than anybody else’s. Other consoles that have recallability don’t have nearly the architecture that the Matrix3 has on the back end, let alone the ability to generate or lock playback to SMPTE, and follow or generate MIDI cues. The saying goes, ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat,’” he muses. “Never was there a truer statement than that in terms of the Matrix3 system.”
In all, Matthews is handling 136 inputs that feed 59 main and 44 aux outputs. The show is intense and required quite a bit of time to program, not unlike a lighting and projection system; a task handled primarily through collaboration between Matthews and Dean’s assistant, Brian Hsieh. Once programmed, the show runs smoothly and easily from the CueConsole. “We are a very happy team, Brian and I. Neither of us could have done this show alone. Programming the show is a massive effort, and to get it right — clean and error-free — takes more than one person. Brian and I work really well together: I worry about the mics and the mixing and he worries about programming the sound effects from Jonathan.”
Lestat is currently at the Palace Theatre in Manhattan for an open-ended run.