It goes without saying that the sound design and mixing was a crucial element for American Idiot, the new musical whose score is the Green Day Grammy-winning album of the same name. When American Idiot premiered in Berkeley Rep’s 600-seat Rona Theatre, September 4-November 15, 2009, Brian Ronan designed the knockout hybrid concert/musical sound with David Dignazio as front-of-house engineer, mixing the show on a Yamaha PM1D digital audio console provided by Masque Sound (New Jersey).
“The sound is a little more concert style than a traditional book musical,” says Dignazio. “The sound is more contained for a theatrical audience. There are some quiet, tender moments, and the orchestrations include strings, piano, and keyboard. We even bring the levels down to one actor and an acoustic guitar and piano—it’s very soft and gentle. This makes the louder moments even more exciting. There is some dynamic mixing.” To be expected with a cast of 19 and an on-stage band of 8, with a high-power rock score.
The onstage band was spread out with the keyboard and bass player downstage left and the drummer upstage left. The viola and violon were on platforms built into the set. “We close miked everything to get the levels very tight,” says Dignazio. “The score is hard-driving with a rock’n roll rhythm section, and we peaked in the 90 db’s. It was loud but not uncomfortable. At a concert, you’d expect something else. Brian worked on the frequencies to be loud but not piercing.”
This was Dignazio’s first collaboration with Ronan, and Mike Farfalla, assistant sound designer, so they developed a process as they went along: “Brian was fantastic. He was very hands on, but gave me a lot of freedom to do what I needed to do,” notes Dignazio.
The band members of Green Day were also part of the mix: “They were very active in the sound of the show,” points out Diganzio. “They even brought over some of their instruments.” Ultimately American Idiot represents a new musical idiom, hopefully on its way to Broadway. “The material is very cutting-edge, and director Michael Mayer and the creative team are very innovative. It was pretty incredible how they fleshed out the stories and characters from an album. Also, there is very little dialogue: the story is told through the music.”