A trademark of prestige and cool: d&b and the Rat Pack
It's hard to imagine such a thing occurring today; could Robbie Williams, Harry Connick Jr, and Chris Brown, conceivably share a stage, and become symbols of style? Of its time the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, and Dean Martin, was a trademark of prestige and cool; it's what all men secretly aspired to. Not only were these guys great singers, they all starred in movies, even if only one of them, Sinatra, could really act. So, to revisit such a phenomenon on the London stage requires more than a modicum of style, for if nothing else, these men were the ultimate arbiters of taste, no matter how gauche. It's a sense of style that marks out this presentation, not least for its authentic and credible sound.
Sound designer Chris Whybrow, fresh from his success with Thriller, describes how he's brought more than a touch of Vegas to London's Adelphi. "The entire band is on different height risers so the audience hears different instruments directly, depending where they are sitting in the auditorium. The dress circle audience for example, are right in front of the trumpets. Getting the music right is a big part of Rat Pack; it has to be slick, so balancing the band is very important. The Adelphi is a typical West End theatre, vertically there are three audience positions and I have placed a left/right Q1 array hung at each level: stalls, dress circle and gallery. There are also Q subwoofers in the stalls, and flown Q subwoofers up at the gallery level. I'm not doing much in the way of level from the subs, just enough to give the audience some kick and bass guitar, and for some tonality in the lead vocals."
It is what's fed to each level that proves critical. "Every layer has different mixes. Using a Digico SD8 in the house, I have eight stored groups in the matrix to feed separate mixes to each area; primarily trumpet, sax, trombone, the band for example keys and drums, and the vocals, all are on left/right feeds. I also have a row of six E0 loudspeakers at each level right at the back for delay fill; that's a separate feed to each set so I can bring up the delay at any of the three levels of the auditorium. All systems, mains and delays, are timed back to the instruments, with separate delays for all three brasses, and band. E3s and E0s are used for band monitors on stage which are white to match the all white set. Vocals are in their own group; delay for voices is just a few milliseconds as they are further downstage than the band. All the vocalists are on handheld KSM9 wired mics; we've had them champagne coloured for Rat Pack authenticity, but in that respect the authenticity stops there. I like to have a clean sound and the voices need to be heard at their best, but the delay on the orchestra does give a rougher edge. It's a pastiche of 60's sound with 21st century production values."
Whybrow has been using Q-Series almost exclusively these past few years; it's a loudspeaker system he applies in many forms. "The Qs are definitely the most versatile loudspeaker; you can do anything with them. The Adelphi is a pretty big theatre for the West End, over a thousand seats, and yet with this PA you don't need rows and rows of delay to hit the back wall. This show might not need to be anywhere near as loud as Thriller, but you still hear it all the way to the back; the E0s just add a little sparkle to the voices at the rear where the seats are slightly shaded from the stage. The band sounds great and the voices are really natural. Giles Tereara as Sammy Davis brought the audience to its feet on opening night with his sensitive rendering of Mr Bojangles; there's no substitute for hearing the full emotion in such a voice."
The whole show sparkles, recreating the humour and relaxed atmosphere for which the original trio were renowned. Following opening night on the 28th September the reviews have remarked on the quality of the singing; using body doubles of the original performers just wouldn't be enough, it is the voices that have to carry the Rat Pack mystique and without it there's no show.