Fun Home is the unlikely smash hit that took Broadway by storm as an in-the-round production, receiving rave reviews and winning no less than five coveted Tony Awards including Best Musical. The bittersweet comedy – claimed to be the first ever mainstream Broadway musical about a gay woman – pictorialises the chaotic upbringing of cartoonist Alison Bechdel.
Director, Sam Gold – who took the 2015 Tony for Direction – transformed the original 2013 off-Broadway proscenium format to an in-the-round staging, with the intention of achieving more intimate and immersive engagement with the audience.
Sound designer Kai Harada, notes, “It was challenging for all departments, and for the cast, but the show took an incredible leap forward. Now you really feel you’re part of the family, watching Alison’s past come to life. It is an immersion rather than a presentation.”
Harada’s sound design worked ambitiously to pull the audience right into the warped and hectic world of Alison and her funeral-home-running, décor-obsessed family, by “making the sound system disappear, so the audience is not listening to the system but to the show.”
Utilising a TiMax2 Soundhub audio showcontrol delay-matrix, running 48-in/48-out, Harada mapped out 27 distinct onstage zones where key dialog or singing occurs. Harada undertook all the planning and pre-production work on the vocal imaging himself, and then it was up to associate sound designer Stephanie Celustka to program his delay-based “audio sourcing” intentions into the TiMax system, he says.
Fifty Meyer Sound fill speakers were positioned on two flown truss ovals (inner and outer) above the stage, five to ten feet apart, Celustka explains. The 50 (out of the 112 total) speakers used for the audio sourcing included Meyer UPJuniors, UPM-1Ps, MM-4s and M1Ds. A Studer Vista 5 console delivered mic channel direct outs to the TiMax which in turn fed the multi-channel the Meyer system via delay-mapped Image Definitions for each stage zone. System EQ and level contouring were also handled by the TiMax SoundHub
The Source Oriented Reinforcement (SOR) vocal sourcing achieved by the TiMax SoundHub draws the audience into the drama and helps to eliminate distraction by the sound system. Harada confirms, “It works seamlessly. The sound is natural and seemingly un-amplified. As intended, it dials up the intimacy.”
Harada credits the producers for their trust in realising his sound design. “I warned them in our initial meeting: We need a lot of small speakers everywhere, and absolutely needed the TiMax system to do a successful sound design in the round. I appreciate that between equipment-provider Masque Sound, the producers and myself we came up with a system that fulfilled the needs of the show and worked within the budget. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished.”