Masque Sound Adds Contemporary Reinforcement to Historical Hamilton

by Naomi Crews
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Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton, with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the book Masque Sound collaborated with Public Theatre for a custom audio equipment package for the off-Broadway production of Hamilton.

MASQUE SOUND HELPS PUT CONTEMPORARY SPIN ON REVOLUTIONARY TALE OF LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA’S MUCH-ANTICIPATED NEW MUSICAL, HAMILTON

Agile Custom Audio Equipment Package Provides Flexibility for Original Production

NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 18, 2015 — When the wildly inventive new musical HAMILTON opened at New York City’s famed Public Theater, Sound Designer Nevin Steinberg collaborated with Masque Sound, a leading theatrical sound reinforcement, installation and design company, on a custom audio equipment package for the eagerly anticipated off-Broadway production. 

From the creative team behind the Tony® Award-winning In The Heights comes a wildly inventive new musical about the scrappy young immigrant who forever changed America: Alexander Hamilton. Tony and Grammy Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda wields his pen and takes the stage as the unlikely founding father determined to make his mark on a new nation as hungry and ambitious as he is. From bastard orphan to Washington's right hand man, rebel to war hero, loving husband caught in the country's first sex scandal to Treasury head who made an untrusting world believe in the American economy, HAMILTON is an exploration of a political mastermind. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Eliza Hamilton, and lifelong Hamilton friend and foe, Aaron Burr, all attend this revolutionary tale of America’s fiery past told through the sounds of the ever-changing nation we’ve become. Tony Award nominee Thomas Kail directs this new musical about taking your shot, speaking your mind, and turning the world upside down. HAMILTON features  book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is inspired by the book “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, and is directed by Thomas Kail.

“Lin is a great theatre artist and fascinating individual full of fantastic ideas, and I am fortunate to once again be a part of the creative team he assembled,” says Steinberg. “I was lucky enough to work on In the Heights and when its director, Thomas Kail, asked me to be a part of this show, I was thrilled.”

In designing the sound for HAMILTON, Steinberg had his work cut out for him. “When you are generating the kind of energy that this style of music demands, the first job is to determine how the audience will hear the lyrics and understand how the words and the story connect to these characters,” he says. “It is important to pay attention to the versatility and premium of clarity, fidelity and linearity in the sound system, while making sure it is sensitive and delicate enough to translate to the ballads and the string quartet, and the more traditional music that rise up out of this environment. To succeed, you have to be very agile and have a very large tool kit at your disposal, and Masque Sound was wonderful in providing us with everything we needed.”

Miranda’s music and the idiom in which he writes is very challenging for audio but is also full of great opportunities to change the game as to how people hear shows in the theatre. The music has its own vocabulary, which emanates from a very contemporary urban feel, so, in designing the sound, there were a lot of challenges in addressing the way the hip-hop-style music would contrast with the show’s more classical undertones, courtesy of the production’s string quartet.

“My biggest challenge was to honor the dynamic range of both the energy and the emotion contained in the score that Lin writes,” says Steinberg. “The show encompasses an extraordinary range. We go from generating the kind of environment that you might experience at a hip-hop concert to the most delicate ballads supported by only a piano and violin, and that’s always a challenge, but it’s also the most exciting part.”

In order to take on the aforementioned challenges, meet the requirements of the show, and adhere to a specific budget, Steinberg worked closely with Masque Sound to come up with an initial equipment list. “Because the theatre is off-Broadway and very small, seating less than 300 people, we are not covering a ton of seats even though there are a lot of speakers in the room, so the back-end of the system isn’t particularly extensive compared to a big Broadway house,” he adds. “We were able to concentrate a lot of our resources financially into the front end of the system, including the console and wireless sides as well as on the input side for the band and monitoring. Working with a shop like Masque Sound that understands those kinds of decisions based on financial considerations and is sensitive to them is essential.”

For his console, Steinberg chose to go with the DiGiCo SD7T Live Digital Console. “We quickly realized that this production, taking into account the flexibility required in terms of the input, monitoring and control, needed a flagship console,” he adds.

The custom speaker package Masque Sound provided Steinberg features Meyer Sound UPQ-2Ps and L-ACOUSTICS® ARCS, which he chose because he felt that the classic speakers would work well in the Newman Theater’s long and narrow design. For the delay system, Masque Sound provided an assortment of speakers from Meyer Sound, EAW and d&b audiotechnik. The microphone package includes both DPA d:screet 4061s, along with a few DPA d:fine headsets, as well as DPA d:dicate 4011s for the musicians. A selection of Shure and Audix mics were used for the drums and percussion, as well as Radial Engineering direct boxes for keyboards, bass and guitars.

For his wireless needs, Masque Sound provided Steinberg with a 30-channel custom package from Sennheiser. “Sennheiser tends to be my first choice,” he says. “We received a great wireless package, which always plays to Masque Sound’s strengths. It has always been one of their best departments and the system that they delivered to us is working flawlessly.”

“I was thrilled to be able to work with Masque Sound on HAMILTON,” concludes Steinberg. “In addition to Masque Sound, my team did an amazing job, from my engineer, Justin Rathburn, to my associate, Jason Crystal, to my backstage staff of Matthew Walsh and Anna Lee Craig, as well as the entire Public Theater team. HAMILTON is a big project in a small theater and we are looking forward to what will hopefully be a very bright future.”

HAMILTON began preview performances on January 20 and officially opens on February 17 at the Public Theater’s Newman Theater, located at 425 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. This limited engagement runs thru April 5, 2015. For more information, visit www.publictheater.org.