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Sinatra Goes Wireless-Twice- in London

Concert | Theatre

This is the year that iconic crooner Frank Sinatra would have celebrated his 100th birthday, and to mark that milestone, Sinatra – via 3D rotoscoped imagery and never before seen video – is on stage once again at the London Palladium, starring in Sinatra: The Man & His Music. The sleek, cutting edge production, mounted by Producer Karl Sydow, takes place 65 years after Sinatra played his first gig outside the United States. Sydow explains, “Sinatra: The Man & His Music is the official celebration for the centenary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and we’ve brought some of the biggest names in the industry together to do it justice. A show of this magnitude requires the best in the business.” Those biggest names in the business include Set Designer Ray Winkler of Stufish Entertainment Architects, Lighting Designer Patrick Woodroffe of Woodroffe Bassett Design, Projection Designer Leo Warner of 59 Productions and a 24 piece orchestra headed up by conductor Richards John.

As one would expect, the production is projection heavy, relying on images and vocals from Sinatra’s colored past. The songs featured in the production include ‘Come Fly With Me,’ ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ ’New York, New York’ and ‘My Way, ’among others. The set features an impressive band stand with two moving sets of stairs; there is also an area below the band stand that’s comprised of 18 rotating LED panels that are 6’ 5” high by 3’ wide. The back of the LED panels utilize blue velvet with LED strip lighting; six of the center panels can move on and offstage, allowing entrances and exits of performers and set pieces.

The production itself had a rather accelerated production schedule. Sinatra: The Man & His Music Senior Production Electrician Harrison Cooke explains, “We didn’t have a lot of time; pre-production was only four weeks and typically for   the West End it could be months.” Pre-production was done at the LH2 rehearsal facility in London.

Lighting is tastefully integrated into the scenery – specifically in two sets of stairs and a curved deck piece. Because these are moving pieces, there was a need for reliable wireless DMX for lighting control. Cooke says, “It’s certainly the biggest wireless system I’ve ever come across and normally we would have a dedicated technician to look after the wireless equipment. In our instance, we didn’t.”

The original wireless DMX that was specified for the show had significant issues. “The only thing that we had to spend a lot of time dealing with was the wireless system,” admits Cooke with chagrin. Those issues seemed to relate to a firmware issue within their transmitters. “We were the first in the UK to have their new transmitters, and it was going to take them three weeks to fix it,” Cooke reports.

Time was the major challenge. Cooke adds, “I didn’t feel like they [the original wireless vendor] were particularly interested in our project. I told them that I have a big lighting designer behind me, and the production won’t accept anything but the system working. And neither will I.” Stresses were high.

Since waiting weeks for a workable, reliable system wasn’t in the cards for Cooke, he turned to Technical Performance and Presentation, the London-based representative for RC4 Wireless and the firm’s owner, Beverly Grover. He says, “We didn’t try any other systems; we simply didn’t have the time. I’ve used RC4 before; you plug it in and it works.” That kind of reliability was exactly what Cooke and his team needed for Sinatra.

It was June 18th when Grover came out to the LH2 with a pair of RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio transceivers for the staircase unit. They did a simple side by side test. She notes, “We put the RC4Magic receiver on the stage right side, and we left the stage left as it was; then we switched them back on and the difference was quite remarkable.” The original unit was still non-functional, while the RC4Magic DMXio receiver worked perfectly with a solid connection to its associated DMXio transmitter. Cooke notes, “I said, ‘That’s it then.’ So we got the RC4 system.”

Grover has been working with RC4 Wireless for five years. “I went up with the completed order on the 6th of July and we put part of it in, tested it, and again it worked the first time and it’s working to this day.” The show opened on the 10th of July.

There are several RC4 products that comprise the Sinatra wireless DMX and dimming system. The production has four RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio receivers that deliver DMX data to the lighting on the two sets of stairs – the main performance stairs and the rolling stairs – and on the curved deck piece that enters when the center LED panels open. James D. Smith, President and Chief Product Developer at RC4 Wireless explains, “More and more, modern musicals have no room for blackouts. Directors are thinking cinematically and want the show to be tight with quick changes.   Scenery, furniture, and props rush on an off with the fluidity of film edits and dissolves. In the past, a crew member could run a cable out to a floor pocket and connect the odd set piece equipped with on-board lighting.  Now there is no time for that — and no room, either, because many more set pieces have lighting in them.” Wireless products have solved the dilemma.

The RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio can receive – and transmit – a full universe of DMX data. Any number of receivers can be used in the system, replacing splitters and distribution boxes. RC4Magic avoids RF channel hopping, and consequently avoids competing with most other devices using the 2.4GHz band. “Unlike other products on the market, RC4Magic uses only 1/15th of the 2.4GHz spectrum. Rather than hopping through, over, and into other systems in the room, we play well with them.  RC4 systems are ideal for use in congested areas with many theatres right next to each other, as is the case in London’s West End,” notes Smith.

The back of 16 of the rotating LED panels are using new RC4Magic Series 3 DMXmrx miniature DMX receivers, which the firm created for Sinatra: The Man & His Music. Cooke notes, “In the soffit panels there’s lots of LED strips, and there was in issue with the amount of cable that could be run to them. The easiest thing for video, lighting and power, was to remove the DMX and do that wirelessly.”

So the engineers at RC4 got work, and created the miniature DMXmrx receiver. Smith explains, “Creating new products for customers is something we do regularly — pretty much whenever the need arises; in fact, every product and feature in our RC4Magic Series 3 line-up was requested by a customer.  Sinatra needed small and reliable wireless DMX receivers, easily connected to batteries.  The ideal solution was a product much like our Series 3 DMX2dim, which includes DMX data output, but without the dimmers. In this case we had the concept, the basic outline of what a DMXmrx should be, on our to-do list before Sinatra came along. The immediate need just moved it to the front of the line and we were able to deliver it — a brand new product — in a matter of days.”

RC4Magic Series 3 DMXmrx miniature DMX receivers are indeed small – 2.40″ x 1.41″ x 0.79”. The receiver DMX data output replicates the DMX data input at the RC4Magic DMXio transmitter, providing the same number of DMX channels and the same number of packets per second with excellent data integrity. It’s output can drive more than the DMX specification limit of 32 devices downstream, and, as expected, the DMX output meets USITT DMX512/1990. “We knew that space was an issue in this installation, so we offered them the choice of standard RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio receivers or new DMXmrx receivers. They chose the DMXmrx because it provided a shorter installation time and we were able to deliver it at a lower price than our standard DMXio. That’s right – it was a brand new product, less expensive that the previously existing option, and available in the same time frame.  When does that ever happen?” Smith asks with a smile.

To ensure good signal propagation throughout the theatre, the wireless transmitters installed for Sinatra: The Man and His Music are two high-gain RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio-HG units; Sinatra: The Man & His Music is running two full universes of wireless DMX.   “Our Series 3 DMXio-HG is the most versatile RC4Magic Wireless DMX transceiver.  It can operate as a transmitter or receiver, has an RF connector for use with a wide range of external antenna options, automatically scans the RF environment to find a clear channel with the least interference, and provides unmatched system security with RC4 private digital IDs,” Smith notes.

Things have been running smoothly for Cooke and his team at the Palladium with Sinatra: The Man and His Music. “I don’t particularly feel that you should have to employ someone who is a specialist in wireless DMX to put a system in and operate it; it shouldn’t have to be that complicated. The RC4 Wireless system has been brilliant for us,” Cooke concludes.

Sinatra: The Man and His Music is playing at the Palladium until the 10th of October.