Currently playing an extended run in London’s West End theater district, The Drifters Girl tells the story of Faye Treadwell, the long-time manager of The Drifters, by interweaving her personal narrative with 20 concert-level performances of the seminal R&B/pop group’s chart-topping hits. To maintain the full impact of both the dramatic and musical elements, sound designer Tom Marshall deployed a strategically placed and meticulously balanced system of Meyer Sound point source loudspeakers and compact subwoofers.
The Drifters Girl is staged in the intimate Garrick Theatre, an acoustically and architecturally challenging venue that was built in 1889 and now seats 712 patrons on three levels.
“The Garrick has interesting challenges when it comes to putting a ‘pop’ musical in the space,” related Marshall. “Loudspeaker positioning is tricky due to the nature of the proscenium opening and the first set of box seats, which together prevent standard speaker positions from covering the whole auditorium.”
Using Meyer Sound’s MAPP 3D™ acoustical prediction software, Marshall plotted a solution to deliver uniform coverage and impact throughout the house. Because the main UPQ-D1 loudspeakers had to be set further back, a pair of ULTRA‑X40 compact loudspeakers was aimed to cover the front few rows in the narrowest part of the venue. Also, because the theater has a long overhang in the stalls, two rows of discreet UP-4slim™ delay loudspeakers were rigged to the ceiling. “Fortunately, the minimal weight of the UP-4slims raised no issues with the plaster ceiling,” noted Marshall.
The “playhouse feel” of the venue also dictated fills to cover the far sides of each level, with ULTRA-X20™ compact wide coverage loudspeakers dedicated to this application. Finally, with no hanging points for an advance truss and only a static truss spanning the two uppermost boxes with a relatively low trim height, there were no options for a center line array. “We used two horizontal ULTRA-X40 loudspeakers with 70-degree side plates for upper and lower center coverage, and it works very well,” said Marshall.
Solid, well-defined bass is critical for driving an R&B sound, but floor space around the proscenium was limited. “Thankfully, the 900-LFC [compact low-frequency control element] solved this,” says Marshall, “as its small footprint allowed us to squeeze in one per side. It proved so effective we didn’t need anything more for the lower part of the theater.” Bass for the upper levels was augmented by a pair of flown 750-LFC low-frequency control elements, and eight UPJ-1P compact loudspeakers were arranged for stage foldback.
All Meyer Sound loudspeakers for the production were provided by Stage Sound Services of Cardiff. “We’ve had a very close working relationship with Tom over the years,” said Phil Hurley, director of the company. “When we learned that Tom and the show’s music director, Chris Egan, were both keen on a Meyer Sound solution, I decided this was a good opportunity to supplement our inventory with some of the newer Meyer Sound products, like the UPQ-D1 point source boxes, and the amazing little UP-4slim loudspeakers for fills and delays. It’s proven to be a worthwhile investment.”
For Tom Marshall, the linear characteristics of Meyer Sound loudspeakers were ideally suited to the dynamics of The Drifters Girl. “The challenge of this kind of ‘louder’ show is to get everything – dialog scenes and full-on hit songs – to sit nicely and tastefully together. I knew I could get both ends of the dynamic range from the Meyer Sound system, and to be honest I didn’t do a huge amount of signal processing to achieve that. The system is crisp, warm, and present for clear and focused dialogue, and those attributes continue as you turn up the levels.”
The sound success of The Drifters Girl is a team effort, and Marshall gives full credit to Associate Sound Designer Dan Evans along with original A1 Harry Barker and A2 Adam Fenton, with thanks to Production Sound Engineer Dan Gregory and his crew for installing the system.
Marshall and Stage Sound Services also teamed up to power the audio on a recently launched UK tour of the hit musical, Sister Act. The system is similar to that for The Drifters Girl, but with additional UPQ-D1 and ULTRA-X40 loudspeakers on hand for scaling up to larger venues.
“After hearing the UPQ-D1 loudspeakers on Drifters, I liked how well they dealt with the dynamics and transients of a pop musical,” said Marshall. “As the tour is playing in a variety of houses that often don’t successfully allow for line arrays, I decided that the UPQs were the way to go. So far, I’ve been really pleased with the result.”
The Sister Act tour is currently slated to play in 30 cities, with dates scheduled into January of 2024 and extensions beyond that likely.
Marshall is credited as a sound designer alongside Richard Brooker on a highly successful London production of Grease, and he worked as an associate for Brooker on The Bodyguard, an extraordinarily successful pop musical that grew into a global franchise. Both productions principally rely on Meyer Sound reinforcement systems.