Cats on the road
UAE: One of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most recognisable works, Cats has enjoyed long runs on Broadway and London’s West End. The musical, based on the book by TS Elliot, is currently in the midst of an international tour and started the year with a short residency at the Dubai Opera House. Joining the performers and musicians on the tour is the show’s own sound crew, comprising Sam Brazier and Jo Stock with head of sound Andy Sharman.
‘We bring all of our own infrastructure,’ explained Mr Sharman. ‘Everything from our systems is the same at each venue, except that we tie in to some of the venue’s delays and surrounds. We’re using a DiGiCo SD7 console. We've got several Meyer Sound MSL2 loudspeakers on the proscenium arch, two SD racks running at 96k and we’re now on fibre. We were on Madi before but we’ve just changed over due to the longevity of the show and the size of the venues that we’re going to be running.
‘We’ve got four d&b audiotechnik B2 subwoofers, but we’re only using two,’ he continued. ‘The acoustics in the venue are nice. It’s very crisp.’
‘When you’ve got the B2s subs as we’ve got, it carries quite nicely,’ confirmed Mr Brazier.
One particularly unique aspect of the sound design is in the performers’ monitoring solution. ‘In the back wall there’s another MSL2 either side of the backdrop,’ noted Mr Sharman. ‘So that is zero time. Everything comes from there. And then the proscenium arch is turned back to that. There’s no vocals in the back and that’s the only onstage fallback that the cast have.’
‘What they are getting onstage is what’s coming back at them from front of house,’ Mr Brazier elaborated. ‘For all vocals onstage.’
Mr Sharman expands on the point: ‘It’s the majority of what the audience gets. It makes the image beautiful. It’s a really tight, central focus for the image of the show.’
Unlike the majority of musicals, the band are not in front of the stage in the pit, but hidden backstage. ‘The band are not in a pit, but in a black-box backstage, because they’re not “cats”,’ Mr Sharman chuckled.
‘Part of the show design since day one is that they never want to see any “humans” on the set. It’s a directorial decision,’ explained Mr Brazier. ‘So, they’re all up in the back with an SD rack next to them and a nice little rack of Macs for the three keyboards, that play a lot of the enhanced sound, because with the touring band nowadays, they lose a few musicians and put it onto the keyboard system. It’s always had three keyboards, but they’ve gone through 24 musicians and today there are nine and a music director. Three keyboards, two reed players that are playing the soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, two clarinets and a flute between them, so they’ve got a bit of a juggling act going on, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and a full drum kit. We were glad to lose the melody from last year’s tour so it gave us a bit more breathing space.’
‘We’re a very full truck,’ Mr Sharman added.
The crew take it in turns, sharing the mixing duties on a rota. The show has recently undergone some changes and all have had to practice the new layout.
‘The show’s changed,’ confirmed Ms Stock. ‘Sam’s learning the changes at the moment and then hopefully I’ll get on the desk again soon.’
‘We’ve had quite a restructure of the show with regards to cutting some numbers and changing some numbers and re-orchestration, so we’ve done quite a lot of reprogramming,’ Mr Sharman concluded. ‘We’ve got a full Madi recording of the show, so we can practice that as if it’s real.’