[ULTRA-X40] is exceptionally good for both vocal and orchestral reinforcement [...] Also, the rotatable horn in the center is particularly useful on Broadway, as often I have to hang horizontally or vertically because of sightlines or aesthetics. I will never do another show without ULTRA-X40s.”
Kai Harada Sound Designer
Opening in late April to glowing reviews, Mr. Saturday Night stars Billy Crystal in an endearing musical adaptation of his self-directed 1992 film of the same name. To ensure Crystal’s rapid one-liners punch through clearly, and the music evenly blankets the 1,232-seat Nederlander Theater, Tony Award-winning sound designer Kai Harada crafted a custom-tailored reinforcement system employing 90 Meyer Sound loudspeakers selected from 11 different current and legacy models.
Harada was familiar with the room acoustics as the Nederlander Theater also hosted the raucous hit Million Dollar Quartet, which captivated critics in the 2010–11 season and also marked Harada’s first credit as a principal Broadway sound designer.
“The Meyer Sound system for MDQ worked very well in the room, but I basically started from scratch for this design,” says Harada. “This is a differently styled show, as it is a more natural-sounding musical. Also, they recently changed the orchestra audience rake, so I wanted to start from the beginning, not to mention we now have to deal with the HVAC fans running full-on at all times to comply with COVID airflow regulations. And I definitely wanted to take advantage of newer Meyer Sound models like LINA and ULTRA‑X40.”
The three front arrays are all current models with seven-each hangs of LEOPARD compact linear line array loudspeakers at stage left and right and a center cluster of five LINA very compact linear line array loudspeakers to cover the front orchestra section.
“I really like the linearity of the LINAs, and they are very controlled in their coverage,” notes Harada. “But I still like the M1Ds in some applications. They are good for natural sounding vocals, and with the very small form factor — height in particular — I can fit in more cabinets where array size limit is critical.”
Wherever point source solutions are called for, Harada’s new favorite is the ULTRA-X40 compact loudspeaker. “It is exceptionally good for both vocal and orchestral reinforcement,” he says. “One reason is the linearity; it requires less EQ than the UPA, for example. Also, the rotatable horn in the center is particularly useful on Broadway, as often I have to hang horizontally or vertically because of sightlines or aesthetics. I will never do another show without ULTRA-X40s.”
For Mr. Saturday Night, eight ULTRA-X40 loudspeakers are employed for downfill, orchestra source, and balcony fill. Other models in the system, with total number and applications, are 14 M1D line array loudspeakers (mezzanine arrays), 4 UPQ-1P loudspeakers (stalls left and right, orchestra source), 14 UPM‑1P loudspeakers (box fill, foldback), eight UPJunior loudspeakers (stalls delay), and 13 MM-4 miniature loudspeakers (front fill, foldback). Deep bass registers are filled by four 500-HP and two 600-HP subwoofers. All audio systems for Mr. Saturday Night were supplied by Masque Sound.
Harada has been working with system designs predominantly based on Meyer Sound loudspeakers for more than two decades, including when he served as an assistant/associate designer for Broadway legend Tony Meola. He is pleased that New York rental houses continue to offer a deep inventory of both current and legacy products as this affords him a broad palette of self-powered loudspeaker options.
“I really like being able to choose exactly what I want for the application,” he says. “For example, I prefer LEOPARDs and UPQs for orchestral reinforcement where I’ll use M1Ds and LINAs more for vocals.”
Regardless of specific application, Harada strongly prefers self-powered loudspeakers for his main and foldback systems. “Many Broadway theaters have limited space for amp racks,” he says. “And there are more things that can go wrong with troubleshooting between front-of-house and the loudspeaker when you have amp racks in the middle. Also, it’s so easy to make revisions and additions, especially for fill systems or stage foldback. If I find a spot that is lacking in coverage than expected and I need another speaker, I just plug one in and go. True, other companies are jumping on the self-powered bandwagon, but they don’t offer the overall quality and support I get from Meyer Sound.”
Harada credits the show’s entire audio crew for a successful effort, including associate sound designers Maggie Burke and Bella Curry, mixer John Kauble, production sound engineer Mike Wojchik, backstage tech Lukas Guilbeau, as well as the team at Masque Sound.
Kai Harada received the 2018 Tony Award for Best Sound Design in a Musical for The Band’s Visit. His other Broadway credits include Head Over Heels, Amélie, Sunday in the Park with George, Allegiance, Gigi, Fun Home, On the Town, First Date, and Follies. He also has designed numerous other plays and musicals for off-Broadway, touring, and regional theater productions.
The book for Mr. Saturday Night was written by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel, with music by Jason Robert Brown and lyrics by Amanda Green. The Broadway production, directed by John Rando, opened on April 27. Mr. Saturday Night is nominated for five Tony Awards in 2022, including “Best New Musical.”