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Use of Microphones on Broadway

Broadway Legend
Broadway Legend
Use of Microphones on Broadway#51
Posted: 3/24/20 at 4:40pm

CONAries said: "Genrally speaking microphones should be used in musicals due to the orchestra, however, I personally feel there is no reason why ANY play should use microphones! Any trained actor should be able to project their voice throughout a theatre."

The problem is that a lot of them can't.  Especially the ones who come from Hollywood and are used to close-ups.  Personally, I would rather have mikes than have to struggle to hear what some actors are saying.

I remember attending an unmiked performance of Plaza Suite a thousand years ago.  George C Scott had left, I believe unexpectedly because I expected to see him, and he was replaced by Nicol Williamson, a highly acclaimed actor.  Maureen Stapleton was a wonderful actress who, to me, always seemed to be shouting a little bit to make sure her voice carried.  As great as she was, it sometimes took her out of character to me.  Well she was onstage with Williamson and, not once but twice, two different people in the audience yelled out 'louder' because they could not hear what he was saying (I couldn't either and I belie e that I was still in my teens).  His failure to project, coupled with her tendency to shout, was jarring.  I still remember that 50 years later.  Had they been miked a bit, the performance would have been better.  Can think of other cases, but that was the most memorable.

Featured Actor
Featured Actor
Use of Microphones on Broadway#52
Posted: 3/25/20 at 7:23am

There's also another problem with miking that I noticed when I saw Lord of the Flies at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park a few weeks ago. The noise of the wind in the trees would have made projection very difficult, so they were wise to amplify the voices, but I was sitting about twelve rows back and when there were lots of people on stage it often took a moment to figure out who was talking!"

Wind would certainly be an issue but even if you could somehow be certain there would be not one breeze throughout the entire run they would still be mic’d. The issue is that there is nothing for the sound to bounce off. It needs to bounce in order for us to hear it at a distance.

Use of Microphones on Broadway#53
Posted: 3/25/20 at 11:18am

I have three very different comments.

One is that the quality of amplification differs greatly.  I understood every word of "A Chorus Line" way back in the original run.  I understood almost no lyrics in "Matilda."  I often read others on boards like this comment about the problem of understanding "Matilda."  It was probably not helped by dialect.

Two is a totally different thought.  In 1999, I heard Mandy Patinkin unamplified, with just piano accompaniment in the small Helen Hayes Theater.  It was transporting to hear a natural voice.

Third, my husband tells this story.  Many stage singers of the old years didn't transfer to movies in part because they were famous on the stage for projection and enunciation: Mary Martin and Ethel Merman being two examples.  There had been floor mikes at the front of the stage for years and so many songs were staged in one, that is, close to the front of the stage.  Jim saw "Funny Girl" and it was the first time he realized the show used radio mikes.  Fanny could sing upstage center.  He came home to his then lover in Brooklyn and said, "Gosh, it was a radio show!"  He's gotten used to it in the years since 1964.  (Yes, he's old.)

BWAY Baby2
Broadway Star
Broadway Star
Use of Microphones on Broadway#54
Posted: 3/25/20 at 2:49pm

Funny you should mention Matilda- I had ticket quite close to the stage in the orchestra- and could not make out most of the dialogue. Why was that? It was not solely the dialect- I have seen many West End productions and rarely have a problem with dalect- underwood every word of The Ferryman when I saw it in London.

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Charley Kringas Inc
Broadway Star
Broadway Star
Use of Microphones on Broadway#55
Posted: 3/25/20 at 3:04pm

Matilda was incredibly distorted and I don't know why. My guess is that it probably starts with overamplification, which is something I'll never understand. I saw a production of Betrayal at a tiny theatre here in Toronto that had pre-recorded interstitial music that played between scenes, and it was so loud it made my ears crackle, and there was plenty of that in Matilda.

Leading Actor
Leading Actor
Use of Microphones on Broadway#56
Posted: 3/25/20 at 5:49pm

re: the opera comparison--correct me if I'm wrong but aren't most opera houses built in a specific horseshow shape to also help the acoustics of un-mic'd performances?  While I'm sure acoustics are taken into account in Broadway theaters too, they're generally a very different shape than their opera counterparts.

I personally enjoy a lighter touch on the mics for voices, though I find too often the orchestra sounds a little too bare and sparse, which I suppose could also be an issue with the number of players as well, but I found that the sound in Hadestown never fully drew me into the story and always seemed distant from the mezzanine, and even in Moulin Rouge I was expecting almost more of a "wall to wall" sound kind of feeling but it also seemed a bit distant from the mezzanine.  I do think rock scores generally could tone it back a tad since too many times long phrases just get obscured by the instrumentals, but more classical orchestrations seem to be almost too subtle to hear in the theater.

Also, both times I saw Mean Girls (once from fifth row orchestra, and once from the back of the mezzanine) it sounded like Taylor Louderman was going to blow out the mics at any moment, which was just a very uncomfortable feeling to be sitting through.