Yamaha PM1Ds mix Fred Astaire's 'Top Hat' on UK tour

Digital consoles put to use on adaptation of 1935 film
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Prior to its West End run, the musical adaptation of 1935 film Top Hat has seen two Yamaha PM1D digital mixing consoles put through their paces as part of the show’s tour across England and Scotland.

The show, adapted for the stage from the film Top Hat, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, features some of Irving Berlin’s most famous songs, alongside full ensemble tap dance numbers.

Sound designer Gareth Owen specified two PM1D consoles to handle the complex production. “I like to use the PM1D for classic, older style musicals,” he said. “It sounds really good for this kind of show, which, in this case, is very cinematic in its sound design. By cascading two PM1Ds together, it was also the only desk with which I could get the required number of input channels.”

The show’s high channel count is a result of three main factors. The first is that the 18-piece orchestra is truly multi-instrumental. “We have a lot of different instruments,” said Owen. “For example, we have four violin players - but one of them plays the viola for some songs. There is also a point where every member of the orchestra plays percussion. The show has lots of stuff like that, which adds a lot of light and shade to the music.”

Secondly, there are several big tap dance numbers, which form Top Hat’s centrepieces, so many of the 40-strong cast have mics built into their feet and there are also a number of slope microphones in the floor.

The third reason is the enormous quantity of hats: “The hats were a major challenge for the sound design, without a shadow of a doubt,” added Owen. “Every cast member wears a hat in virtually every scene. And it’s not just top hats - there are wide brimmed trilbies, big sun hats - all types that can cause real problems with the sound from hairline microphones.

“Getting a natural sound from the actors was the priority and so many of them ended up wearing several microphones. For example the leading man has two on his head, one on each foot and three different hats, all of which have a mic in them. The show’s radio channel count is huge.”

With reagrds to output, the show has a complete A/B rig, with every loudspeaker position duplicated to ensure that there are no issues with phasing.

“With so many people on stage singing at once and the show featuring a lot of scenes with couples being very close together, I had to design an A/B rig to eliminate any phasing between the omnidirectional mics,” commented Owen. “Even the reverb sends are duplicated to keep the sound as clean as possible.”

With each member of the orchestra having a personal monitor, as well as onstage foldback being built into the set, stage floor and roof, the show demanded an extremely complex sound design. However, according to Owen, the PM1Ds were up to the task.

“We had both control surfaces throughout the production period and it was really cool to have Chris Mace, the production sound engineer, on one and me on the other, both able to quickly access anything we needed,” he said. “For the tour itself we’re using just one, but using two for the design and rehearsal stages was invaluable.”

He concluded: “A huge part of why I’m still so enamoured with the PM1D is that it’s absolutely rock solid. When we were in production rehearsals I could concentrate 100% of my time on making the show sound good, rather than being sat at a console waiting for the sound techs to get it doing what I wanted it to do. To a sound designer, that reliability is worth its weight in gold.”

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