d&b’s Soundscape immersive sound technology, powered by the DS100 digital audio processor, is helping to bring Michael Jackson’s unique and unparalleled artistry back to life on Broadway.
MJ: The Musical made its debut in early February at the 1,445-seat Neil Simon Theatre, and is centered around the making of the ‘King of Pop’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour. Created by Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner producer Lynn Nottage, MJ offers a rare look at the creative mind and collaborative spirit that catapulted Jackson into legendary status. The entire MJ production is live with four musicians on stage and nine under the stage, and the entire cast sings live, apart from a moment during Thriller where the ensemble mics are covered by masks.
Two-time Tony nominee for sound design and three-time Olivier Award winner Gareth Owen, once again chose d&b to deliver the audio, having recently deployed Soundscape for Diana on Broadway, as well as on nearly a dozen other shows around the world.
“I had not worked with director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon or Lynn Nottage the writer,” explained Owen. “Normally, when I get offered a sound design project, it’s because I’ve worked with somebody involved in the project before. In this case, the producer, Lia Volack, offered me the project because she liked my work on other shows.”
Owen said he didn’t have to explain the whole d&b Soundscape theory, but once the MJ producer and director heard it, they knew that it would work. “I had used Soundscape on about ten shows, so I was very confident that it would do what I wanted it to do,” said Wheeldon. “The lack of big speakers causing sightline issues on the proscenium was a nice plus point too: traditionally in theatre we fly line arrays on either side of the stage, what’s called a L/R system. With Soundscape you don’t have that problem. For MJ the Musical, all the speakers are across the top of the proscenium arch. There is nothing on the either side of the stage blocking sight lines.
“Obviously, Soundscape sounds great,” Owen continued. “But there was obviously the responsibility to deliver Michael Jackson’s music to the highest possible standard. He was fastidious about the quality of his sound so we felt quite pressured to deliver to the level he would have demanded.”
In the spirit of MJ’s attention to detail and boundary pushing musical genius Owen and his team pulled out all the stops available to them. “We used En-Space to simulate different performance spaces,” Owen explained. “When Michael Jackson is supposed to be performing in a small intimate club, we use it to emulate that and when he is supposed to be playing a big stadium, we use different settings to accommodate that. We’re also using En-Scene in combination with the En-Snap software, which I co-developed. I love the way it works. Together with R1 for initial configuration and PA system tuning they make for an easy workflow.
Maxine Gutierrez, head of audio and mixing engineer for MJ added. “As a mixer, I work to support both the stage, and to help tell the story with sound, En-Snap presents aural settings from intimate book to stadium resound, enhancing each scene on-stage to not only re-create moments in Michael Jackson’s life, but also extend that energy and emotion to the audience. As we collaborated on the balance of the mix for each scene and song, we really created our storytelling arc through sound. The Gareth Owen team invested into the details, allowing the mix to tell this story with dynamic ease. With d&b Soundscape and En-Snap, the team has honed-in a design that truly elevates the experience of MJ: the Musical.”
Owen concluded: “I always use d&b loudspeakers for productions. Every time we use Soundscape, we find a new way of extracting something else, something that we didn’t manage to achieve before, something that’s a little bit better, that’s a little bit cooler. It’s very exciting. We look at every show and see what we need. If you look at say, Come from Away Broadway, that’s a point source system with no surround because that is what I feel like the show required – we try to modify to suit if you will. The MJ rig on the other hand is heavy duty – big line arrays above the stage, an extensive surround system, and a lot of low-end.”