The Outsiders Rolls with the Punches on Broadway

Photo by Matthew Perry

Originally published as a novel nearly six decades ago, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders tackles teenage angst and isolation. The book became a best-seller, publishing over 15 million copies for generations of teenagers who found an emotional connection with the main characters’ daily struggle to find their place in the world.

As a testament to the enduring relevance of this theme, the book’s musical production has received outstanding reviews and no fewer than 12 Tony nominations, not only for its impressive adaptation from paper to stage but also for its powerful sound and visual design elements. PRG is proud to have provided this new musical with audio, lighting, and projection technology. Sound Designer Cody Spencer, Lighting Designer Brian MacDevitt, and Projection Designer Hana S. Kim deliver a genuinely immersive experience for audience members throughout the theatre.

”We worked closely with Director Danya Taymor, creating the environment of Tulsa in 1967. The show is actually a memory play with jumps in time, so a lot of the sound effects were used to tie a scene to a memory or produce a soundscape that places the audience outdoors: crickets, a dog barking, a train in the distance,” said Spencer, who has been nominated for two sound design Tony awards, for his work on The Outsiders and Here Lies Love.

He continued, “This show is in a traditional proscenium theater, but we wanted the sound to be all-encompassing. So, except for a few key moments, we had the vocals and the band in the front and the atmospheric sound all around. We focused on making sure we had good surround speakers so that wherever you sat, you felt like you were immersed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1967.”

About the speakers, Spencer explained, “We had to place the speakers about 7’ further downstage than in a typical Broadway house due to the positioning of the rain curtain and other elements, so it was a challenge to get the coverage down front but using the L-Acoustics L2D speakers, we were able to get three extra rows of coverage.”

Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Outsiders was the first Broadway show to use L2D. Spencer also relied on L-Acoustics for processing, choosing the L-ISA Processor II for its object-based mixing. This allowed the team to help source where the sounds of people on stage were coming from.

Another interesting dimension to the design is the use of fewer digital processors and plug-ins, commonly found in modern musicals but not used by Jamestown Revival, the Americana rock band who wrote the music and lyrics. “We even have an acoustic piano. And that's really part of the reason the band sounds so warm and so full, which is that we're not using digital gear. We're using actual analog studio equipment to make the sound as full as it is,” Spencer said.

David Strang, PRG VP, Audio, said, “It was clear from the beginning that The Outsiders would provide a great opportunity to showcase what L-ISA can do in a more standard theatre set-up and Cody felt L2D was the right choice for the main arrays. We were excited to support him on that and his choice to rely on analog signal processing instead of software plug-ins.”

Spencer, who also worked with PRG this season on Here Lies Love and Gutenberg! The Musical! had high praise for their team, saying, “I’m delighted to work with David, Erin Insalaco, Account Executive, and, of course, Alex Donnelly, VP and GM, Broadway. With PRG, I know I can get what I need to make the show happen.”

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Accompanying Spencer's soundscape was Brian MacDevitt’s Tony-nominated lighting design. Called “wonderfully expressive” by Variety, MacDevitt's lighting sets the mood for a range of scenes spanning palpable sadness, raw anger, fear, and hope. MacDevitt's vision of an old-school, incandescent look and feel to the stage and characters drove his designs. "The color had to be just right for 1967; it had to exude realism. Yet, with the story told through memory, I also had so much flexibility for extremities and abstraction. The creative opportunities in front of me, combined with the single set to work with, well, that was a lighting designer's dream!" said MacDevitt when asked about his experience working on the show.

"Collaborating with this creative team was nothing short of thrilling, especially on that pivotal Rumble scene. The drama, the grittiness, and the ability to elicit genuine emotion and connect with the audience through light, sound, and scenic elements were pure exhilaration. And PRG was so great in helping me find the exact lighting gear that I needed; they understood that distinct analog look I was going for and fixtures that would deliver an amazing punch," MacDevitt said. His design includes over 70 High End Systems Halcyon Titanium automated fixtures, popular for their brightness and compact size, and PRG’s proprietary GroundControl® Followspot System.

Nominated for 12 Tony awards, including Best Musical, this show is based on the best-selling S.E. Hinton novel.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Working alongside MacDevitt, Hana S. Kim's projection design drives home the palpable emotions of the characters on set. Kim focused on providing an emotional landscape rather than the literal translations of what's happening on stage. She turned to photos from William Eggleston and Arthur Tress for inspiration and created some of the content using analog film development to generate base textures, as well as her own charcoal drawings.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Describing the projection system, Kim said, "We’re using high output, 4K laser projectors and disguise media servers so to achieve the precise pixel density I was looking for. During tech, we experimented with a lot with different surfaces, moving projectors around and exploring multiple lensing options. PRG really helped us by staying flexible while we were figuring it all out.”

The Outsiders is currently playing at Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.