French Dressing: The Revival Of Gigi, Part Two

French Dressing: The Revival Of Gigi, Part Two

Photo by Margot Schulman

The revival of the 1973 musical Gigi, written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, opened this past spring on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre. Starring Vanessa Hudgens in the title role, the story tells the tale of a Parisian girl being trained as a courtesan who winds up finding love in the glamorous city. Bringing the glamour and glitz of Paris to Broadway are set designer Derek McLane, lighting designer Natasha Katz, and sound designer Kai Harada.​ Read about MclLane's set and Katz's lighting in Part One.

Harada was brought on board for Gigi by the director due to their long working relationship. “For the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theatre incarnation of Gigi, we chose to use mostly installed equipment,” says Harada. “I had designed two other shows in the theatre in 2014, so it was a familiar system, including the Studer Vista 5 and a house speaker package, augmented by a Meyer Sound center cluster and Sennheiser wireless systems. Of course, we specified a custom system for the Neil Simon once the Broadway engagement was announced; this scenario saved the producers some money on the DC version, so we could better staff and support the Broadway production.”

Photo by Derek McLane

Harada explains that one of his design conventions is “to try to hide the actors’ microphones as best as possible and then get them to sound as natural as possible. It’s also my goal to make the orchestra sound like an orchestra. The less it sounds like it comes from a set of speakers on the proscenium, the better.”

Harada credits the show’s orchestrator, August Eriksmoen, with creating a brilliant arrangement for such a Broadway classic. “August had the Herculean task of re-orchestrating the show for thirteen pieces; he and I spent a lot of time discussing how best to accommodate orchestral sounds that came from keyboards to still give it a ‘natural’ feel. For example, all major percussion instruments are played via keyboard, and to imitate the visceral feeling of having real timpani drums in the orchestra, I added a pair of subwoofers in the pit as well as four full-range loudspeakers firing up out of the pit. It was a challenge to get the thirteen pieces to sound larger than life, but I think we achieved that goal quite well.” The pit is comprised of 13 musicians: one violin, one cello, one contrabass, three woodwinds, one French horn, one trombone, two trumpets, one drummer, one keyboard player, and one pianist.

French Accents

Photo by Derek McLane

System-wise, Gigi is outfitted with Meyer Sound M1D line array loudspeakers, used for a center cluster, Meyer M’elodie line array loudspeakers for the sides, and a selection of Meyer MM-4, UPM, UPJunior, and d&b audiotechnik E3 and E5 loudspeakers, all of which are Harada’s go-to models. Five Meyer Galileo 616 processors handle system processing, while a Lexicon 960L handles reverb duties. Two Apple Mac Minis run Figure 53 QLab redundantly for the sound effects. The sound effects are mostly environmental, with a few doorbells thrown in for good measure. “My associate, Catherine Mardis, did a fabulous job finessing these effects both in DC and in New York, and we used a simple surround system in both cities for the more atmospheric effects,” Harada says.

Harada chose to continue to use a Studer Vista as his console as he says it was flexible enough to accommodate the needs for Gigi. “I like the way it sounds, and I am a big fan of its Actor Library functions, allowing different scenes to have different actor EQ settings that we create depending on what hats people are wearing,” says Harada.

Photo by Margot Schulman

As with the design of any big show, there were some challenges along the way, namely costume elements that changed the response of microphones and louder-than-desired lighting equipment. “[We experienced] challenges with hats changing the response of the microphones, but we spent a lot of time in rehearsal working on microphone position and equalization to get them sounding as good as possible,” explains Harada. “One of the other challenges besides headwear was the noise of the lighting equipment. Natasha is very conscientious with her specification, but unfortunately, the quieter equipment was not available; thus, both from the stage and in the house, there was a significant noise floor to overcome. Gigi was written when musicals weren’t reinforced at all, so it has some wonderfully tender sections. Sadly, we do have to run the system a little bit hotter than I would like.”

Harada credits his staff with being able to pull off such a successful design: Michael Wojchik, production sound engineer; Jana Hoglund, head mixer; Michael Carrico, backstage sound; Catherine Mardis, associate sound designer; Hidenori Nakajo, assistant sound designer.

Gigi’s creative team has successfully crafted a show that shines bright on Broadway and transports the audience from a theatre in midtown Manhattan to the romantic streets of Paris.

For more, download the May issue of Live Design for free onto your iPad or iPhone from the Apple App Store, and onto your Android smartphone and tablet from Google Play. 

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