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Front of House: ‘Shucked’ Shines on Broadway



Sometimes you want to see an intense Broadway show to get immersed in something deep. At other times you need a fun-loving musical comedy to make you laugh and seek refuge from these overwhelming times. The multiple Tony Award-nominated Shucked — which opened in April 2023 at the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street — gleefully falls into the latter camp.

In this corny, self-aware comedy (any of the jokes are literally about that yellow veggie), the isolated and self-sustaining Cobb County finds its cash cow of corn crops are dying. The county needs help from the outside world to solve its problems, and only the spunky, adventurous Maizy is willing to take the leap. She ends up in Tampa and finds a con artist who says he can solve the problems. But his motives are really profit-driven as he thinks there are precious gems hidden in Cobb County. His arrival with Maizy creates tension within the community and her fiancée. They need a savior, but who will it be?

Some of the jokes are not right on the face of things,” notes the musical’s sound designer John Shivers (a Tony winner for Kinky Boots and a nominee for Shucked for this year’s Tonys). “There’s something intelligent about the jokes, and it takes you a second to figure them out in some cases. I think that’s what’s clever about it. You often hear slightly delayed laughter. I think the show is quite well done.” He’s right. The production is a hoot, and the audience keeps cracking up the whole night.

Visit ShuckedMusical.com

The exuberant Shucked cast features seven double-miked leads, eight ensemble members, and four swings. They are wearing DPA 6061 wireless mics and Sennheiser SK-6212 transmitters. Shivers thinks the 6061s sound quite good. “I’ve A/B’ed them against the other DPAs, the 4061s in particular, which I’ve used for a decade now,” he says. “They sound quite similar, but they’re smaller and less obtrusive which, aesthetically, makes them a better choice.”

There are six musicians in the show’s orchestra. Five are in the pit, and the drummer sits in an isolation booth located underneath the stage in the trap room. “There really wasn’t room in the pit to accommodate the drummer / percussionist, even before they put an additional row of seats in,” reports Shivers. “We had to actually cut out an area for Jason Howland, the music director/orchestrator, to conduct from. They couldn’t put the extra row of seats in fully across, so they put people on either side of the center cutout. It’s an intimate show, so you can happily sit right up on top of it.”

The orchestra musicians include drums, bass, two guitars, violin/keyboard two and the conductor, who plays keyboard one. The guitarists play multiple instruments — one has five and the other has four. These include banjo, mandolin, steel 6-string, 12-string, and dobro — which fit in with the show’s country flavor. These are captured with a mix of Shure and Sennheiser mics and Radial DIs for the bass. The show is mixed on a DiGiCo SD7T.

Issues and Answers

While there were few issues with mic placement to achieve good sound quality, one scene with the musical’s two storytellers proved to be particularly challenging. Aside from telling the tale to the audience, they briefly took on two other roles during one sequence, playing jewelers one second and thugs the next. As jewelers, they had glasses on their faces, which they took off when they donned hats to play the thugs.

They switch back and forth very quickly, so that was a little bit tricky in terms of coordinating the microphone switching and positions,” says Shivers, who adds that they have to switch between the actors’ normal mics to those inside the hats. “We did some clever things to try to minimize having to throw the faders up and down a lot, but there’s still quite a bit of single-line mixing. Thankfully, we had Brian Rau on the board. He’s an excellent mixer.”

The bigger issue was finding places for monitors onstage. Being that there are barrels, large cornstalks, and an upstage balcony with other props, the sound designer and his team had to be judicious in terms of placement.

It isn’t a typical set, so we had to find atypical places to put the foldback speakers,” explains Shivers. “Typically, we would have them ‘in 1,’ ‘in 2,’ ‘in 3’ as sidefills firing across stage, but we didn’t have that option, so we had to hide them in the set. On stage right, we hid monitors to achieve proper coverage or dispersion on the stage. The downstage pair was covered in fabric the color of the set, so they’d blend in a little bit. There are a couple that were actually hidden behind some scenic elements.

Shucked features a handful of sound effects — a car having trouble starting up, a “chicken” that squawks when tossed offstage, a bris “snip,” smart phone rings and the sound of rapidly wilting cornstalks. For the dying corn, “we enhance that a little bit,” says Shivers. “There is a SFX integrated with the orchestration. It’s basically an ominous, low dissonant chord that’s played on the piano [as] we play this wilting kind of sound.”

To determine the best cellphone ring — something that’s a double-edged sword, considering that audience member phones can go off during a show — Shivers ran different options by director Jack O’Brien until they came up with their desired choice. “We just went through a number of ringtone sounds and chose two that we thought were appropriate,” recalls Shivers. “Then we had to figure out the number of rings. That was all based on blocking — how much time the actor needed between the phone starting to ring and him getting it out of his pocket and opening or activating it.

A couple of the sound effects, including the bris snip, are run through Ableton. “For the things that need to be precisely fired or executed musically, I typically will put them on the music department’s playback system should they have playback,” says Shivers. The cornstalks sound is tied to an electrics cue. “We often coordinate the sound and lighting cues which often execute at the same time, so the more automated we can make these, the better. It’s just more consistent, and it synchronizes the lights and the sound. It just tightens everything up. It’s more repeatable. The car ignition is fired by the electrics because they have a lighting cue — the taillights flash on the car, so we want to be able to synchronize that.”

The System

In terms of speakers for Shucked, Shivers picked mostly KV2 Audio with a few Meyer Sound enclosures used for offstage foldback. “I think that KV2 make an incredibly transparent speaker, and I’m a big fan of their product line,” remarks Shivers. “I think it’s generally good to not mix things up unnecessarily unless you have a certain change in quality you want. There’s a consistency between the KV2 product line. You obviously can’t use exactly the same speaker everywhere. You need front fills to be quite small compared to the mains, and your surround speakers also need to be on the small side. But KV2 Audio make their products to all have similar tonal properties, so they work seamlessly together, and they’re cost effective too.”

The final sound design for the show offers clarity for the rapid-fire quips and dialog without pushing volume levels like some musicals do. It strikes a nice balance. Shiver’s team includes his associate designer Kevin Kennedy, A1 Brian Rau, and A2 Joe Samala.

Shivers says he had a great time working on Shucked. “It was maybe the highlight of my Broadway career in terms of collaboration,” he declares. “It just felt like a loving family — supportive and kind and generous and collaborative. It was great, and everybody was happy. There was no drama. It was really refreshing. Just a great, great group of people.

And earfuls of deliciously corny puns.

Source: Front of House Magazine
Photos credit: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman


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