Matilda The Musical Sound Design

Photo Joan Marcus

The sound design for Matilda The Musical is in many ways a delivery system for composer Tim Minchin’s eclectic score, which sets the tone for the expansive, eccentric world of the show. Says Simon Baker, a two-time Tony nominee for past London imports Brief Encounter and Boeing-Boeing, and a frequent collaborator with director Matthew Warchus and the rest of the design team, “It needed to be massive, and not a straight presentation of a proscenium musical. One of the great things about opening in Stratford was that it was a thrust stage, with the audience on three sides. That’s very much in the DNA of the design, that the audience is held within this special bubble throughout the show. We break the fourth wall a lot, and the sound ripples through that. There’s an awful lot of sound effects, and the band is mixed in 5.1, so it’s like listening to a really good movie played live every night.”

Photo Joan Marcus

The Royal Shakespeare Company production arrives intact on Broadway after a three-year journey from Stratford to the West End and the Cambridge Theatre at home. “There are no major changes between this production and London in terms of the show’s structure,” Baker says. “The Shubert has a different shape of auditorium, so we did the loudspeaker system differently, but it’s really in the details. We were encouraged not to change the scale of the production.”

The rig is also straightforward. “People assume we’ve got crazy technology on it, but it’s pretty old fashioned,” Baker says. “My work is about delivering story really quickly and trying out ideas. We use [Figure 53] QLab for our playback, a regular DiGiCo SD7T console, and many surround speakers, the Martin Audio Effect 3R cinema install loudspeakers. There’s a lot of surround processing over the band, at match level, which is done with TC Electronic M6000 MKII Mastering units.”

Check out the full sound equipment list for Matilda here.

Photo Joan Marcus

The nature of the show, however, is very tricky. “The orchestra is used beyond the traditional musical,” Baker says. “They’re not in the pit; they’re completely isolated, which was a necessity. They’re playing a Sondheim-esque number one moment and a big band one the next. Then you’ve got a rock song or an incredibly delicate underscore, and at the heart of it is a nine-year-old girl whose vocal you have to get on top of, plus an ensemble of ten children singing Tim’s very complicated lyrics. The acrobat stories that Matilda tells to the librarian, which are filmic and come to life slowly over the course of the show, are difficult to do, as they involve sync sound that is challenging to mix and produce live each night. Then, right away, you’re back in a traditional Broadway kick line sequence.”

“My hope is that the show works as one continuous arc,” Baker continues. “We chucked out many of the rules regarding the orchestra being in the pit, the sound being mostly acoustic, and the vocal sitting on top of that. The band builds and builds and gets wider and wider, and more into surround, as the narrative progresses to its most epic moment when the villain, Trunchbull, is revealed. We’re seeing how much we can get away with.”

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