War Paint Joan Marcus

Harmony Between Legends In War Paint

Brian Ronan discusses his sound design for War Paint, now on Broadway.

In a time when men ruled the business world and only prostitutes and performers wore makeup, two female immigrants, born to poverty, raised themselves up to become iconoclastic powerhouses who defined 20th-century beauty and revolutionized how the world saw women. War Paint, written by Doug Wright with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, enters the world of cosmetic industry icons Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, played by Tony Award-winning theatrical titans Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. Director Michael Greif assembled a star-studded creative team to help these industry giants shatter glass ceilings on stage first at Goodman Theatre in Chicago and now the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway: set designer David Korins, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, sound designer Brian Ronan, and costume designer Catherine Zuber. Read about the set design and lighting design.

With vocal legends LuPone and Ebersole, Ronan’s first concern was designing a system that would serve their needs best. The sound designer devised a system of area monitoring using the show’s deck to hide the loudspeakers. He worked with Korins to place the speakers in the most vital positions, discussing materials that would protect the speakers, allow for audio transparency, and still allow the cast, many in high heels, to walk on. “In this way, I could give the ladies options so that they could hear themselves, and more importantly, each other, so they could harmonize together,” Ronan explains. “With the style and period of music, we all agreed that the system should be transparent and not overpowering.”

Joan Marcus

The chief design challenge was the show’s hats. “Hats are the enemy of audio,” Ronan says. “They looked fantastic and were dead on for the era so it was up to me to work around them.” For the song “Step On Out,” actor and singer John Dossett boasts a yellow, wide-brimmed hat that the choreography requires he takes on and off constantly. The deck sound team and wardrobe department collaborated to best position three microphones on Dossett to cover his various movements. “Board op Mike Tracey follows the actor, anticipating his every move and blending accordingly,” Ronan states. “He does it so well that the audience is unaware of how much work goes into mixing that number.”

In Chicago, the Goodman provided 70% of the sound equipment, so the move to Broadway called for a full redesign of the PA system. “I’m using a pair of arrays left/right of the center array to help with band transparency,” the designer explains. “I’d intended to use a smaller profile array, but what was available and within the budget was a much larger array than needed. War Paint is not a loud show, but the arrays, as they are, look a bit rock ‘n’ roll.” The show’s assortment of loudspeakers includes L-Acoustics Karas and DV-Dosc units, Meyer Sound UPQ-1Ps, Eastern Acoustic Works JF50s, and d&b audiotechnik E0s, E3s, and E5s. The system features various microphones, and everything is mixed on a DiGiCo SD7 console.

For more, read the April/May 2017 issue of Live Design.

Stay tuned for more on the costume design!

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