Birth Of A Nation: Vocal Clarity

Photo by Joan Marcus

The streets of New York may not have been paved with gold, but they were certainly filled with intrigue and opportunity when Alexander Hamilton, a young immigrant from the Caribbean, arrived in the American colonies in 1772. His story, which runs parallel to that of the founding of the United States of America, is the subject of the hottest show on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre this season, Hamilton, which marries history and hip-hop in an extraordinary production that celebrates the birth of a nation. With book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda—who also excels in the role of Hamilton—the musical has an all-star design team consisting of David Korins, sets; Howell Binkley, lighting; Nevin Steinberg, sound; and Paul Tazewell, costumes. Directed by Thomas Kail with innovative choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton has brought an unrivaled sense of excitement to Broadway, with an interracial cast, contemporary forms of music, and deep roots in American heritage. Read about Korins' setsBinkley's lighting design, and Tazewell's costume design.

Vocal Clarity

Steinberg tackled the hip-hop sound of Hamilton at The Public and made it bigger for Broadway. “One of the interesting things about working on Hamilton at the Newman Theatre was that the confined space influenced not just the limits on where the sound could go, or how it could expand, but also an emotional ‘ceiling’ of sorts,” he explains. “While preparing for Broadway, I was able to imagine that the sound of the show could easily expand and ‘bloom’ in a bigger venue, in the same way the story and staging would, too. Of course, a complete redesign of the delivery system for the new venue was also lurking in my mind during the whole process. Luckily, I’ve worked at The Rodgers many times before, so in my mind, I could work the loudspeaker design over quite a bit, and it was not a big leap for me to think about what the show could sound like there.”

Photo by Joan Marcus

For Steinberg, one of the satisfying things about the transfer is that he was able to work with The Public to make sure that the resources available for Off-Broadway were plowed into the front-end of the system—console, wireless, monitoring—the components that they were going to want to transfer directly to Broadway. The console is a DiGiCO SD7T, upgraded to 96kHz with SD Racks for Broadway. “It’s just a monster console in terms of audio quality, theatre features, input/output, and user interface,” he notes. “It’s also packed to the gills. I’m not sure there’s any input/output left on our system that is unused.”

As is typical for Steinberg, the speaker system is diverse and handpicked for each position. “The main floor and balcony clusters are newer d&b audiotechnik Y Series and V Series boxes with their accompanying subs, with legacy L-Acoustics ARCS and new ARCS Wide on the proscenium, a bunch of the coaxial L-Acoustics powered 108s and 112s for fill, EAW JF60s for surrounds, and a big complement of Alcons Audio components: VR8s for delay systems and SR9s for front fill. Additional subwoofers are Meyer Sound 600-HPs, 1100-LFCs, and Bag End Infras.” The audio gear is supplied by PRG Audio, and the sound crew, rated “excellent” by Steinberg, includes associate sound designer Jason Crystal and FOH engineer Justin Rathbun, with Anna-Lee Craig and John Senter on deck sound and Nick Borisjuk on production sound.

Marrying Hip-Hop To Broadway

Photo by Joan Marcus

The clarity of the vocals is excellent throughout, and as Steinberg points out, “People are sometimes not aware that the show is completely sung-through, which makes the lyrics of a new musical even more important—no chance to catch up in a book scene. Miking the actors was, in a way, like choosing the speakers: Each person gets his or her own custom rig, whether head-worn or boom-style. The deck crew has done an amazing job achieving excellent and comfortable mic positions on each of our performers. I obsessed over the look and feel of the mics. How technology encroaches on our production is one of the interesting design elements. You see it in the lighting and sound especially. David Korins’ set and Paul Tazewell’s costumes are a perfect blend of modern technology and movement and period feel, yet nothing at all is compromised. The inevitability of their work was a real inspiration for my approach to the sound.”

In marrying hip-hop to Broadway, Steinberg reveals that “the score is so dynamic, not just hip-hop, but string quartets and ballads, and sensitive choral pieces. It’s quite a ride for the audience, and my team and I are in the business of managing it for them,” he says. “Of course, the delivery system needs to be pristine but also muscular. There’s a real extended low-end as well, for some of the sound effects, sure, but also for the low-frequency information in the brilliant orchestrations and electronics coming from the band.”

Photo by Joan Marcus

And luckily for the audience, the band is actually in the orchestra pit on Broadway. “It’s a nice change from downtown,” admits Steinberg, “and the connection between the live musicians, who are all quite amazing players, and the stage and audience has lent the production a great deal more depth.”

Why is Hamilton the hottest ticket on Broadway? “The show is just so good,” posits Steinberg. “I’ve seen it dozens and dozens of times uptown and downtown, and it’s utterly compelling. The storytelling is clear and exciting. No question, it’s quality writing and a quality production. The real magic trick seems to be that, in an era of anti-intellectualism, Lin and company have made something scholarly and rigorous very cool. I’ve always thought that making an audience feel smart is one of the great superpowers of live theatre, and Hamilton rewards its audience’s attention. We leave feeling enriched, inspired, and empowered.”

Click through to the next page for the audio equipment list.

For more, download the September 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. 

Selected Audio Gear

Photo by Joan Marcus
Audio Vendor: PRG
  • 1 DiGiCo SD7-T Console 
  • 13 Penny & Giles Fader For SD7 Center Section
  • 2 DiGiCo SD Rack 96kW Stage Rack with Optocore SD MADI Pod 
  • 1 Midas Venice 320 32x6x6 Console
  • 3 TC Electronics Reverb 4000 2ch Reverb Processor
  • 5 TC Electronics System 6000 
  • 1 TC Helicon VoiceLive Vocal Processor
  • 6 Meyer Sound Galileo 616 AES Speaker Processor
  • 1 Meyer Sound Galileo 408
  • 4 Meyer Sound 600-HP Powered Subwoofer
  • 2 Meyer Sound 1100-LFC Ultra-Low End Subwoofer
  • 1 Rane HC6 Headphone Amplifier
  • 4 L-Acoustics ARCS Loudspeaker
  • 2 L-Acoustics ARCS Wide Loudspeaker
  • 10 L-Acoustics 108P Self-Powered Loudspeaker
  • 6 L-Acoustics 112P Self-Powered Loudspeaker
  • 4 L-Acoustics LaA8 Processor/Amplifier with LA-AES3
  • 28 d&b audiotechnik E-0 Compact Loudspeaker
  • 8 d&b audiotechnik E-3 Compact Loudspeaker
  • 20 d&b audiotechnik Y8 Compact Array Element
  • 4 d&b audiotechnik Y-Sub Arrayable Subwoofer
  • 4 d&b audiotechnik V8 Mid-Size Array Element
  • 2 d&b audiotechnik V-Sub Arrayable Subwoofer
  • 8 d&b audiotechnik E-Pac Processor/Amplifier Display Model Only
  • 3 d&b audiotechnik D-6 Processor/Amplifier
  • 8 d&b audiotechnik D20 4ch Processor/Amplifier
  • 12 Alcons AudioVR-8 Compact Loudspeaker
  • 8 Alcons Audio SR-9 Compact Loudspeaker
  • 4 Alcons Sentinel 10 Processor/Amplifier
  • 44 EAW JF-60z Compact Loudspeaker
  • 3 Bag End D12E-DA Compact Subwoofer
  • 2 Bag End Infra-MXB Subwoofer Processor
  • 16 Galaxy Microspot VC Compact Loudspeaker wVol Modified with Nl4
  • 4 Lab.gruppen 2400Q Power Amplifier
  • 1 Lab.gruppen FP6400 Power Amplifier
  • 12 Yamaha H5000 Power Amplifier
  • 8 TOA CS-61 PW 70v Speaker 
  • 1 TOA 906A MKII Powered Mixer Dressing Room System
  • 3 TOA B-01F 900 Series Line Input Dressing Room System
  • 16 Anchor AN1000X Powered Monitor
  • 1 Drawmer DA-6 Line Distributor
  • 2 Intelix 8001 Mixer Page/Program
  • 7 Audix D-2 Compact Dynamic Microphone
  • 1 Audix D-4 Compact Dynamic Microphone
  • 1 Beyer M-88G Kick Drum Microphone
  • 4 BSS AR-133 Direct Box
  • 3 Countryman Type 85 Direct Box
  • 17 DPA 4011 Cardioid
  • 3 DPA 4066 Headworn Omni Boom Beige 
  • 7 DPA 4099 Miniature Condenser
  • 7 DPA DAD4099-BC Microdot To XLR For 4099
  • 4 Radial JDI-Duplex Direct Box
  • 24 DPA 4011 Or 4006 Measurement Microphone
  • 1 Sennheiser MKH-40 Cardioid Condenser Microphone 
  • 30 Sennheiser SK 5212-II UHF Wireless Transmitter
  • 15 Sennheiser EM 3732 UHF Wireless Receiver
  • 4 Shure SM57 Dynamic Cardioid
  • 2 Shure SM58 Dynamic Cardioid
  • 1 Shure SM81 Cardioid Condenser
  • 4 Shure 565 SD Dynamic Cardioid with Switch
  • 4 Shure 527B PTT CB-Type Large
  • 4 Shure UR-2/SM58 Wireless Handheld 
  • 2 Shure UR4D+ Dual-Channel Wireless Receiver
  • 1 Yamaha Subkick Large Diaphragm Dynamic Transducer
  • 3 Pro Co Sound Power Mute Stomp Box
  • 2 Radiocom BTR-800 Wireless Intercom Mainstation
  • 8 Radiocom TR-825 Wireless Beltpack Remote Beltpack
  • 1 Masque Sound Wideband Antenna Distribution 
  • 1 Masque Sound Wireless Receiver Monitoring System 
  • 2 Masque Sound Remote For Wireless Receiver Monitoring System
  • 16 Motorola CP200 Professional Walkie-Talkie
  • 2 Clear-Com SB-704 Main Station 10X Matrix
  • 8 Clear-Com RM-704 Rack Mount Remote
  • 4 Clear-Com RM-702 Rack Mount Remote
  • 1 Meyer Sound SIM 3 Audio Analyzer System

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