Michael Waters takes on the challenge of mixing Hugh Jackman’s extravagant ‘one-man’ Broadway show in an arena.
Story: Preshan John
The many sides to Hugh Jackman are bookended by a ripped, shirtless Wolverine action figure and the Hawaiian shirt-wearing Boy from Oz. But which Hugh would feature in his one-man show Broadway to Oz? All of it. While taking a trip down memory lane from his musical theatre days to the first time he strapped on a pair of claws, Australia’s favourite son pays tribute to some of his favourite musicals with some high-energy song ’n’ dance routines.
JPJ Audio FOH engineer, theatre expert and 20-year Hugh-veteran, Michael Waters, gave AT a tour of the show’s behind-the-scenes setup. “[Hugh] calls it a one-man-show,” said Waters. “But it’s got a 17-piece ensemble, a 35-piece orchestra, and a six-piece indigenous troupe… for a one-man-show, there’s a lot of men and women involved.”
Jackman is still the show though, and his mixture of story-telling, singing and mid-tap yelping needed to be perfectly reinforced to thousands at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne — a much bigger venue than the arenas on Broadway. “In theatres, Hugh has been able to use the DPA 4061 lapel mic. But it’s an omni, so it won’t respond too well in an arena. I’ve got him back on a DPA headset, which we used on The Boy From Oz nine years ago. DPA has released a new model of the 4088, the cardioid one called d:fine, and that’s working really well. He loves it. He’s always had trouble with headbands, if they don’t fit absolutely perfectly he kinda gets frustrated because they move about on him, but this works great. As a backup I’ve still got a 4061 strapped to that, so if the headset should fail, there’s still something out there that’s better than nothing.”
Michael Waters: “It’s a pretty big operation back stage. In fact, that’s far more complicated than FOH to be honest with you. There are two Avid Profiles back there, one for Hugh and the cast’s IEMs and one for the orchestra mixes. Bob Daniels and Harrison Maher provided the orchestra with ‘More Me’ mixes via Aviom personal monitoring controllers, which lets them balance the mix with their own signal. There are also 12 audience mics which help keep Hugh in touch with the audience while he’s on IEMs.”
BOLD AS BRASS
Michael Waters: “I love that old-school, classic brass sound you get with the Sennheiser 441s and 421s”
Michael Waters: “There’s quite a bit of soloist mixing involved. In terms of general mixing, there are some substantial button-pushes at the end of the numbers. I’m giving it 10dB extra over the whole collection, then whipping it out real quick before it takes off and hangs around for 10 minutes.
“In terms of loop gain, it’s mainly in the low end department because the L-Acoustics K1s are so solid in that area. There’s not an awful lot of EQ taken out of the PA, it’s a fairly flat, well-performing system straight out of the box. It’s really just the summation of the brass mics and piano that wants to get lumpy in the low mids and bottom end. And of course the strings are sort of shelved up a bit higher anyway. But it’s a surprising amount of gain. It’s a nice, punchy orchestra.
“I’ve got each of the string sections individually grouped. I widen one side of the stereo pair, and pan them across the room then reverse that orientation on the side hangs. It’s quite spatial and it gives Hugh that space right in the centre. I can do the same with the ensemble; have them as a bed, then Hugh sits right up in front.”
Michael’s mic choices aren’t brand-restricted. As well as DPA 4061s on strings, and Sennheisers, Neumanns and Earthworks throughout the rest of the ‘pit’, he used six SM58s for the 75-piece girls choir. Michael: “I put radio mics across the front of them and pulled this almighty sound out of them.” He also miked up the drums with Audio-Technica AT4050s for overheads, a Shure KSM137 on hats and a Beyerdynamic M88 on kick.
BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
Michael operated the show on a Digico SD7 with 110 inputs coming in from two SD racks. The L-Acoustics K1 system supplied and tuned by JPJ didn’t require much EQ or many subs as there was plenty of bottom end. Having the front hangs set 30m apart wasn’t a problem for Michael, who had to manage the parts of the show when Hugh and co. would come down the central runway.