Two dozen young actors dancing, jumping and singing on stage may mean a good time for many theatregoers, but to Tony Meola it translates into a nightmare. Meola is the sound designer of the new Broadway musical Footloose . And with a show this hyperactive (it's called Footloose , after all), keeping sound quality even and pure is a constant battle.
"Doing rock music, as opposed to the show tunes, is a lot more difficult in terms of quality and feedback," said Meola, who won a Drama Desk Award for his work on The Lion King . Not that Meola hasn't done rock musicals before; he has Smokey Joe's Cafe to his credit. But, as he tells it, it all comes down to microphones. Since Smokey Joe was a revue, not a book musical, the cast was equipped with headset mikes -- the sort you see telephone operators wear.
"Where I'm coming from, when you tell a story, you can't have a mike like that," said Meola. "Footloose isn't the story of Ren McCormick who walks around with a headset on his head."
So, for the cast of Footloose , mikes were hidden somewhere on the head. That arrangement, however -- while preferable in visual terms -- creates audio problems. "Doing rock and roll without holding mikes in front of your mouth is hard. When mikes are in the hair, that's quite a distance from the lips. When a mike is held in front of the mouth you have far more control in level and quality, than when it's on the forehead or hair." During the Washington, D.C. tryout, Meola spent his time making various sound adjustments: tweaking the orchestrations, moving the loudspeakers to different parts of the theatre ("It's still a musical, and I want it to appear that it's a singer speaking, not a loudspeaker speaking"). Additionally, the vocal and orchestra levels are altered from song to song during the show.
Meola expects to be working on Footloose 's sound up until its opening on Oct. 22. He doesn't mind the labor, however. "Every show has its own inherent problems," he reasoned.