The Color Purple opened in Chicago April 2007 and has since received great reviews at every city visited, not least for its sound design conceived and implemented by Jon Weston. Weston is a man with a passion for musical theatre, beginning his career in recording. "But I always preferred actually being in the studio rather than the control room, there is no substitute for sitting in the middle of a seventy one piece orchestra."
His love of live instrumentation has stayed with him, leading to his transition from studio to the live environment. "A friend recommended me to New York theatre sound, and I was lucky because Abe Jacob took me on." Starting at the business end, Weston mixed musicals for Mr Jacob for five years, then worked with Martin Levan on Phantom, Starlight Express, Aspects of Love and Carrie. "Then around the mid nineties I started designing for shows. It just sort of happened. I realized I could have more artistic control and interaction with the Director through that route. That said I also wanted to be a better engineer, and through designing systems you get much greater insight to variables that affect the listening experience beyond the dynamics of performance and mix."
That's an insight Weston brought to The Cadillac Theater in Chicago for The Color Purple. "This is definitely not your normal book musical, the range of the music and emotion in the orchestration is very broad; everything from delicate to getting the audience up on their feet." Yet he chose to experiment, specifying a new PA, the
J-Series line array system from d&b audiotechnik. "A friend, Lucas Corrubia, whose opinion I respect, suggested I hear the J8. I have been using their little E3s for fold-back, front fill and occasionally under balcony fill for some time now, so I called d&b for a demo. I spoke to William Cornell and he listened to what I wanted to do and said he'd get back to me. When he called back he said he understood what I wanted to achieve. Both conversations were detailed; William was obviously more an engineer than a salesman. He even explained how he had called other people to check what I wanted to do." The dialogue proved pivotal, "I believed William and d&b understood, and so in the end I put in the bid based on the J-Series having never heard it."
David Strang of PRG Audio, the show's audio vendor, project managed the purchase along with Ryan Powers. Phil Lojo, the show's Production Sound Engineer installed the system. Primary coverage came from a centre hang of J8s and J12s, with a left/right system of Q1s. Proscenium front fill from E3s, Proscenium left and right lowers are C7s. On stage fold back used E3s and E12-SUBs. "To have J8s up there with Q1s on the proscenium allowed me to excite the exact areas I wanted, and it is so much warmer, it just doesn't sound like a line array to me. The room is deep and wide so coverage was tricky but I have to say the predictive software is as accurate as I've ever seen."
Color Purple continues to play to full houses and tours till July 2008 having passed through Broadway over Christmas 2007/2008, finishing at the Fox Theatre, Atlanta Georgia.