42nd Street breaks new musical ground with Shure UHF-R

The new UK production of the classic musical 42nd Street, playing since April this year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s West End, has been utilising over 80 channels of Shure UHF-R wireless microphones (UR1M transmitters and UR4D receivers) at any one time.

If not a West End record, then this certainly makes it one of the shows with the highest wireless channel counts in London theatre history.

Award-winning Sound designer Gareth Owen is responsible for all of the audio infrastructure on the 42nd Street revival, and has been a long-time user of Shure wireless systems. “Ever since they released the UHF-R system, we’ve had good results… and when I find a system that gives me good results, I stick with it,” he said.

“It’s the huge cast of 42nd Street that does it,” added Owen’s associate designer Olly Steel. “There’s never fewer than 42 cast members on stage at any time, they all sing at some point, and we double-mic the six principals to guard against sweat damage to the transmitters… so before you even start to think about spares, we’re over 60 channels.”

The feet of some of the cast and chorus are also miked up so that the live sound of tap-dancing feet can be clearly heard in many of the musical numbers. The so-called ‘tap mics’ add another 24 channels to the wireless total. The high wireless channel count is also a function of the increasing ease of use of such systems, as Owen explained: “Transmitters are much better built these days, they’re more compact and don’t run so hot, and if they’re dropped, it’s not as serious as it used to be, because being lighter, they don’t land with so much force… the technology has really matured.”

Brixton-based Orbital Sound supplied all of the audio and communications infrastructure, including the Shure radio mics for 42nd Street, and the company’s technical director, Bill Addison, was responsible for the frequency plan. He admits that running the requisite number of wireless channels was a stretch, but just about achievable in 2017. Shure’s Wireless Workbench 6 also proved its worth during 42nd Street’s technical rehearsals in the Spring, and specifically the real-time RF performance log captured by the new Timeline function.

Since the show opened in early April, the Shure UHF-R system has – according to Owen – performed flawlessly, despite some initial worries about the number of wireless channels.