Total Production


9 February 2008

(Manhatten) - When The Ritz returned to Broadway after a 30-year hiatus, the farcical romp vibrated to the 70's disco beat at Studio 54, once a hot spot for disco-era nightlife in New York City.

The historic theater-turned-nightclub was reconverted to a performance venue by Roundabout Theatre, which recently staged the revival of the 1975 play set in a Manhattan gay bathhouse. Veteran sound designer Tony Meola, who has an extensive list of credits that include Les Misérables and five Wicked productions around the world, created a robust system based on Meyer Sound’s M’elodie ultracompact high power curvilinear array loudspeakers.

Meola had a specific goal when designing the sound system for The Ritz. “I wanted a big sound with left-right separation, like you’d hear at home with a big stereo system, or at a first-class club,” says Meola.

A keen believer in Meyer Sound’s line array products, especially M2D compact curvilinear array loudspeaker on which the Wicked systems were based, Meola used M’elodie in his design for the first time on The Ritz. “I’m glad we did. I hadn’t used them before, but I really like them. They did everything I needed them to do,” says Meola.

The smaller footprint of the M’elodie also proved advantageous, according to Meola’s assistant designer for the play, Adam Rigby. “That worked out great,” Rigby observes. “Because in the talent show scene we had actors up in the front seating boxes to play the audience. The M’elodies were flown right between these ‘audience members’ and the stage, so it helped that they’re not obtrusive.”

In addition to two arrays of six M’elodie per side, the system also included four 650-P high power subwoofers that ably reproduced the big thump of the disco era. Five UPA-1P compact wide-coverage loudspeakers provided balcony delay, with two UPA-2P compact narrow-coverage loudspeakers used for stage effects, and five UPM-2P ultra-compact narrow coverage loudspeakers for corner fill, proscenium monitors, and steam room effects.

A center array of eight M1D ultracompact curvilinear array loudspeakers was dedicated exclusively to dialog enhancement, with area pickup from seven of Crown’s PCC foot mics and seven miniature microphones (Sennheiser and Crown) mounted on set railings. “Area mic’ing plays are very difficult because we have to ride the mics like crazy,” says Meola. “But the clarity of the M1D array made it very workable in this case.”

As a highly demanded Broadway sound designer, Meola generally likes the sound to appear as if it’s coming from the performance and not from a speaker on the wall. “My goal in creating a sound design is to provide the audience with an experience aurally that is as real and believable as what they see on the stage,” explains Meola. “Meyer speakers give me the clarity and the transparency I need to create that sense of reality.”

In The Ritz, that sense of sonic reality successfully engaged the audience in a key scene where ever-aspiring nightclub singer Googie Gomez (Rosie Perez) sang a misbegotten medley of show tunes. According to New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley, her numbers – sung intentionally “off –key, off-cue and off-balance, but with a menacing determination” – closed the first act with “a few of the funniest minutes on Broadway.”

“That scene was great fun to do because Rosie is such a great and talented performer,” says Meola. “I also enjoyed editing and remixing the disco tunes. For example, at the end for the curtain calls, I started with Donna Summer’s recording of “Last Dance,” then went into a karaoke version, then back to Donna. I did tons of music editing on Pro Tools for this show, and I had a great time doing it. It’s not often I get that opportunity for a play, or a musical for that matter.”


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