Friday June 14, 2013 / 7:30pmChicago
A Section - Orchestra
How was your experience?
The challenges inherent for any producer of Chicago would seem insurmountable: tight choreography requiring first-rate dancing and exquisite ensemble timing; soloists skilled both vocally and in the song 'n dance so-popular gems' requirements. At nearly every turn this assemblage provided a tight, professional, evening of individual performances and fluid troupe cohesion. Bravo! But the huge flaw, searingly damaging to the experience, was the distorted, overly-amped vocal audio house sound support. Almost all solos were nearly ruined by being pushed into amp-clipping noise through the peaky, cheap assemblage of DJ-esque poor frequency response horn monitors hung at each wing. What a shame! At intermission I complained to the youngsters at the mixing board to cut the house audio 3-5dB to reduce distortion and allow some semblance of balance between the searing solo audio and the unmiked wonderful live orchestra. Given the lack of stage monitors for the expertly conducted musicians also meant that THEY couldn't hear the extraordinarily poor balance that the audience, in the radiation patterns of the speakers' horns, were suffering through. (Indeed, sitting farther back, as some of the audience wondered during intermission, actually makes this problem worse! Sitting center-front orchestra is the only way to repair such an unbalanced setup...but of course only a few seats there....) After intermission it was clear that the audio "management" (I must use the term loosely) responded by reducing the house audio gain, the result being that most solos escaped the clipping distortion of the first act. Poor frequency response of the cheap speakers still gave false timbres to the solos, but at least the restoration of a reasonable balance allowed one to hear somewhat better the subtle interplay of the gifted orchestra section members. Nonetheless, the horn and reed solos were barely audible, and the lead male's vocal numbers crashed into overload because of his profound vocal power. So here we have a nearly 5 star rendering of a great classic nugget of American cabaret/theater, almost ruined by an amateurish lack of control of the severely inadequate house audio. Far better would it have been if the live orchestra had had MINIMAL but professional monitoring and support, and that the vocal soloists' sound had been provided gingerly, and only as necessary. This auditorium is fairly live, so the temptation to push the "popular" vocals over-hard is unnecessary, and must be resisted when the equipment doing so is so poor. So a THREE star first act, and a FOUR star second. Rounding forces a FOUR star summation in hopes that subsequent performances are handled more carefully. I'd LOVE to hear that orchestra live in an instrumental medley of these numbers. Meanwhile I suggest that house management consult with acousticians who are skilled at providing natural, balanced audio support, and not simply stacking cheap DJ monitors in hopes of being "loud enough"!