Sound designer for hit new Broadway musical comedy relies on large collection of the company’s mics to achieve pristine audio
Aladdin is the most recent of Disney®’s beloved animated films to come to life on Broadway and DPA Microphones is in a leading role for this musical comedy, engaging audiences with dramatic sound and theatrical adventures. To help make the magical experience come alive, Ken Travis, sound designer for the show, calls on the company’s d:screet™ 4061 Omnidirectional Microphones
to close-mic the entire cast, along with a combination of d:dicate™ 2011C Twin Diaphragm Cardioid
and d:vote™ 4099 Instrument Microphones
to amplify the natural sound of the orchestra.
Featuring all of the original Academy Award-winning songs from the hit animated film, as well as new material written especially for the stage production, Aladdin combines elements of magic, adventure and comedy to captivate audiences. For Travis, this means producing a phenomenal sound to bring the cinematic experience to stage in the most vibrant way possible, lending this his desire to create an audio masterpiece that feels like the original film mixed with a classic Broadway musical. Whether costumes had to be designed around the mics or actors were equipped with several mics to account for costume changes, every setup was tested to achieve optimal audio amplification.
“This is the most collaborative production at this level that I have ever been involved with,” Travis shares. “For instance, we were working directly with the costume designers because we don’t want any wires to be seen on the cast. One unique thing we created was a prosthetic chin for the Genie, which has a DPA d:screet™ 4061 inside. While designing the chin, we tried multiple microphones, manufacturers and styles in order to find the perfect sound. The day we switched to the d:screet™ 4061 everyone said, ‘wow, whatever you guys did to the Genie, that’s it!’ ”
Like the Genie, the entire ensemble uses d:screet™ 4061s, as Travis finds they provide a natural sound, with the benefit of being easily concealable. The mics are also designed to withstand the toughest of conditions, including humidity and sweat, and have a reinforced cable relief built to handle the constant twists, bends and pulls, which is perfect for a production of this magnitude.
Since the show requires as many as 72 costume changes in four minutes, the mics are hidden along the actors’ hairline or turban to ensure the fast-paced environment is always perfectly wired for sound, allowing the ensemble to instead focus on their performances rather than mic placement.
“Sometimes the cast only has a second to make sure the mic is in the proper placement after a wardrobe change,” shares Travis. “In those instances, we tell them to try and hit their mark, but just in case, we also built a transmitter for the mics that we hide in the costumes, such as under a jewel in the turbans. There are some cases when cast members are triple-miked because they’ll have multiple hat and turban changes. Whether the number requires an actor put on a new turban, which covers the primary mic, or take off a turban to reveal another hat, equipped with a backup mic, we always have a redundant mic just so we don’t lose any audio.”
While it was crucial to Travis to find the best sound solution for the cast, he knew the orchestra also plays a big role in the Broadway experience. For Aladdin, a song such as A Friend Like Me, which is three minutes long in the movie, is a 10-minute production onstage.
When it came time to select the mics to amplify the orchestra, Travis tested every mic available to ensure the sound quality of the instruments matched the vocal abilities of the performers. Again, DPA Microphones was the clear winner. “I’m never happy with the sound of snare drums, so we wanted to try different microphone varieties and pick whichever sounded the best,” recalls Travis. DPA, Inc. suggested we try the d:dicate™ 2011C microphones. They were just what we were looking for, so we included one in our blind test and they were right.”
After finding the perfect orchestra mic, the audio team needed a setup to match, so they hung two d:dicate™ 2011C Twin Diaphragm Cardioids from a custom harness above the grand piano and orchestra to create what Travis describes as a very accurate sound. Additionally, they clipped d:vote™ 4099s to the toms and ethnic drums. From piano, guitar and strings to woodwinds, brass and drums, the d:vote™ 4099 sounds incredible on every instrument as it amplifies their natural acoustics and removes any unwanted noise. Ideal for the Broadway stage, a single d:vote™ model can reinforce an entire orchestra.
“What we like about this setup is that the piano goes from very legato into the Genie performances that are really rocking,” he explains. “Those songs were our biggest test for the d:vote™ 4099s and d:dicate™ 2011Cs, because we use a lot of snares and ethnic drums, which can get loud. Some mics don’t seem to reproduce that type of sound very accurately, but both micsstood up to the challenge. We are really happy with the sound, so we’re trying the d:votes on some brass instruments next.”
Per Travis’ request, Masque Sound supplied a custom audio equipment package, which included the DPA d:screet 4061 mics, to support his creative design for the show, which opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on March 20. His vision was additionally brought to life by associate sound designer Alex Hawthorn, production audio head Lucas Indelicato and front of house mixer Gabe Wood, who each had a hand in selecting all of the DPA mics.
Travis is no stranger to the theater environment, as he has been providing his audio genius to the Great White Way since 1997. His recent works include Newsies; Jekyll & Hyde; and A Christmas Story, the Musical, both on and off-Broadway. Directed by Tony Award®-winning director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin is based on the book by Chad Beguelin, music by Alan Menkin and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The show stars Adam Jacobs (Aladdin), James Monroe Iglehart (Genie) and Courtney Reed (Jasmine). Jafar is portrayed by Jonathan Freeman, who also voiced the character in the movie.