Muse Research, the owner of KVR audio, has announced that the hit Broadway musical of the popular MGM film "Legally Blonde" is appearing on MTV in a historic broadcast, using the Muse Research Receptor hardware plug-in player for most of the keyboard sounds. Never before has a Rialto Broadway production been aired on television while it was still open on Broadway, but the producers are confident that the airing will attract a new audience and continue to strengthen the show's regularly sold-out run at the Palace Theater in New York. Also unique is the novel "MTV-like" approach to filming the show, a huge departure from the customary fixed-camera approach used to televise musicals. This production uses five cameras with lots of music video techniques to complement the exciting, fast-paced flow of the show. The show airs on MTV today (Friday, October 19), at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (check local listings).
Hit Musical makes its way from the Palace Theater to MTV
Traditionally, popular Broadway shows were made into musical films so they could reach a broader audience, such as "Fiddler on the Roof," "The Sound Of Music," "A Chorus Line" and "Chicago." The last decade has seen the emergence of Broadway musicals based on popular films, with several examples currently running on Broadway including"The Producers," "Hairspray," "The Lion King" and now "Legally Blonde." However, the crossover between music theater and television is only now beginning to emerge. This unprecedented broadcast of "Legally Blonde" on MTV is sure to cause a stir since it breaks with the tradition of waiting until a show closes before airing the production, typically on public television. The producers of the "Legally Blonde" are confident that its MTV appearance will attract new customers who might not even be aware of the show, and they're confident that the Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, has to be experienced in person to fully appreciate its addictive energy.
Receptors power the pit in this high-energy show programmed by Irwin Fisch
Much of the energy of the show comes from its the fast-paced score, featuring music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, orchestrated by Christopher Jahnke and delivered with gusto by an orchestra led by James Sampliner. Integral to the 18-piece orchestra is a rack of Receptors, driven by three keyboardists. They cover vast sonic territory, including the traditional piano parts, but also delivering synths, organs, supplementary strings, ethnic instruments, harps, incidental samples, percussive effects, and more.
Widespread use of Virtual Instruments greatly enhances score
Programmer Irwin Fisch chose the Receptors because he wanted the superior sonic performance delivered by virtual instrument software, as compared with the traditional hardware synthesizers used by many shows. The Receptors were loaded up with dozens of plug-ins, including Synthogy's Ivory, Spectrasonics' Atmosphere and Trilogy, Native Instrument's Kontakt 2, FM7, B4II, and Pro 53, GMEDIA music Minimonsta, and East West's Colossus and GOLD XP Symphonic Libraries. Irwin provided some insight into what goes into staging a modern Broadway musical:
"A show like 'Legally Blonde' packs more stylistic diversity into two-and-a-half hours than any other gig imaginable. You've got theatrical pop-rock, a traditional theatre song, some high-tech dancey arrangements, some stone funk, some legit orchestral numbers, lots of cinematic underscore, a marching band, a highly stylized tour of Irish genres, some raging Latin bits – and I know I'm leaving something out that would keep your head spinning. So the synths have an enormous job. Since traditional keyboards instruments are rare in the pits, the synths provide the fundamental rhythm section keyboard sounds; also, they fill in for instruments that are missing because of budget and space constraints, they constantly augment a minuscule live string section, they provide all the non-acoustic sounds you'd expect from synthesizers and samplers in contemporary music, and they are used to trigger sound effects or other bits of audio"
When asked about the specific demands on the equipment as well as the complexity of the programming of a show such as "Legally Blonde", Irwin commented:
"Each keyboard player is constantly changing sounds. Broadway orchestrators have a unique approach to live synthesis: it's not uncommon to have 30 patch changes in a song, and they don't necessarily allow time for those changes. So the synth rig needs a huge capacity and maximum flexibility. The Receptor's enormous memory and processing power, negligible latency, and unique flexibility allowed us to bring to the orchestra pit a level of sound quality and capabilities akin to a studio environment – without computers, without hardware interfaces, without an external mixer. In fact, on 'Legally Blonde' we ran the outputs of the keyboards through the Receptor's line inputs, allowing us to have each keyboardist's complete mix coming out of a Receptor's stereo outs. It's exactly like having a digital console with snapshot automation on each chair, but it was all handled within the Receptors. The conventional limitations and hassles associated with playing live no longer apply. "
When using high-tech gear in the pit, versatility AND simplicity is the key…
Since few musicians can commit to an extended Broadway run, it is essential to ensure that a particular part can be played by any number of different musicians who might be called upon to cover the part. This poses a huge challenge when using high tech gear in the pit, since the equipment has to be immediately usable by substitute players and new players who come do the run. Irwin explained about how Receptors really shine:
"The show goes on eight times a week, the players can sub out up to half the performances, and there's no keyboard tech on site. That necessitates a simple boot-up and power-down, avoidance of elaborate loading procedures, and absolute reliability. The Receptor's bootup could be handled by Chico, the Chihuahua who plays Bruiser the Chihuahua on stage. (Alas, he has not been trained for that, presumably because his union, ARFTRA, won't allow it.) You just turn them on. Period. After the final curtain, you just switch them off. Since the completion of programming, the Receptors have performed flawlessly. This has been a no-maintenance gig, which has spared everybody the sort of agita they've experienced with other cutting edge setups. "
Receptors delivers the power without the pain
When selecting gear for the show, Irwin had a choice: use computers with their difficult host software setup, cumbersome peripheral interfaces, and unpredictable behavior, or use Receptors. Irwin comments on what drove his decision to choose the latter:
"When I was first briefed on what was expected of the keyboard chairs, I knew immediately that using plug-in instruments was the way to go. It gave us a broad palette that hardware wouldn't offer – such as Pianos from Ivory; organs from the B4II; analog synths from Atmosphere, Pro53 and MiniMonsta; orchestral samples and effects running in Kontakt 2. We've all come to expect this in a recording environment, and it was great to not have to lower our expectations just because it was a live show. The Receptors allowed us to be uncompromising.
For the elaborate needs of the 'Legally Blonde' score, the options were computers or Receptor. Not only was Receptor more suited to this gig because of its ruggedness, simplicity, and all-in-one design, but it was considerably less expensive than going with computers."
See the show, then see the show
"Legally Blonde: The Musical" made its debut MTV appearance on Saturday, October 13; repeat broadcasts times are planned, the first will be aired on MTV today (Friday, October 19), at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (check local listings). When in New York, you can go to see Laura Bell Bundy deliver her power-packed performance on Broadway at New York's Palace Theater, located in Times Square.