Broadway To Vegas
SHOW REVIEWS CELEBRITY INTERVIEWS GOSSIP NEWS
Copyright: June 21. 1999
By: Laura Deni
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A MOTHER FLIPPING
You're watching the acting of Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Robert Wagner or Sean Connery and
assume they are also speaking. Not necessarily.
FRED TRAVALENA: HIS VOICE IN THEIR
The sounds coming from the mouths of your favorite movie stars may well be the voice of
impressionist, comedian, actor, song writer Fred Travalena, who has worked Las Vegas with
such mega stars as Julie Andrews, and Shirley MacLaine. He's in constant demand to put his
voice into another actor's body.
When the movie Casino spent over four months filming in Las Vegas the language used
paralleled the real life verbiage spewed forth by mob bosses and gambling honchos. The big
had no problem. Converted to television, the powers that be began to hyperventilate. That's when
Travalena got the call.
He was brought in to loop - a phrase that means recording dialogue, or sound effects over an
existing soundtrack. Travalena impersonated the voices of Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro replacing
forbidden words with something more sanitized. An oft said "forbidden" phrase became - You're a
mother flipping cockroach.
Travalena, who starred off-Broadway at the LaMama Theatre in Alice Through The Looking
Glass Darkly, and in Paradise Lost, has a genetic tree that's a bounty of interesting
people - all named Fred.
His grandfather, Fred I, was an Olympic coach in 1948 and 1952. His father, Fred II, was a singer
who worked with Frank Sinatra.
FRED TRAVALENA II, taken, May 1979. Worked
with Sinatra in Jersey.
"I started out as a singing waiter in the Rustic Cabin with Frank Sinatra in Jersey," Travalena's
father had recalled back in 1979. I'd gone to the impressionist's house to interview him and his
father became an even more colorful interview.
Photo By: Laura Deni
Fred II was referring to a roadhouse joint in Englewood Cliffs where Frank and Fred sang with
the Harold Arden band when they weren't waiting on tables."We all had times to sing," continued
Fred. "One hour you were on. You served the food when you weren't singing and your station
was covered while you were singing. We were paid $15 a week. That was for waiting on tables.
We weren't paid extra for singing, but the tips were big if you were singing. The customers liked
having their food served by the guy who was going to get up on the stage and sing.
"Frank hated the place, but he said he knew how to put a plate in front of somebody and he'd do
anything to be able to sing. If you got the orders messed up or spilled anything and the
customer complained, they'd take it out of your check.
"Frank was a really skinny kid and some of the food orders weighed more than he did. You also
had to dance with the customers. I think that was the only place that ever told Frank he had to get
out and dance with people chewing food. When you were serving, if you didn't have any orders
and the other guy was singing and it was slow, you had to go ask the women to dance to keep the
FRANK SINATRA; Started out as a singing
"That's what caused him to get arrested, because that's how he met the girl he started dating,"
remembered Travalena, referring to Toni Della Penta Francke. "She was in the audience sucking
a lemon from her drink and that bothered him while he was singing. Sucking a lemon in front of
any singer can cause them to pucker up to go dry. So, he asked her to dance and they started
dating, only he was also dating Nancy (Barbato) at the same time and promising both women that
he'd marry them. It really got to be a mess."
"Frank was okay until he got arrested, right there at the Rustic Cabin," said Travalena recalling
to the Future Chairman of the Board being hauled off to the hoosegow on Dec. 22, 1938. He
was charged with committing adultery. The rejected girlfriend not once, but twice, had
Sinatra arrested. The first arrest was on the morals charge termed "seduction." He was held in jail
for 16 hours.
"All of that gave Frank a bad taste in his mouth about New Jersey about the Rustic Cabin,"
"I sang there for about four months and I left. Frank was still there, working as a singing waiter
when I got a job singing at the Steppin' Club. Three weeks later Frank left and joined the Dorsey
As a general rule people don't notice sound unless they don't like what they're hearing. All too
often our eardrums tell us to complain. Why can't the sound guy get it right or why doesn't he fix
it? What are those guys - deaf?
Jonathan Deans is one of the top sound designers in the world. "I've been fortunate enough to do
some nice projects," modestly replied the man whose Broadway sound designs this season include
the Tony award winning Fosse and Parade. In Las Vegas he put his sound stamp
on EFX at the MGM-Grand, Mystere at Treasure Island the O production show at
the Bellagio Hotel. We've never found fault with any of his aural projects. We asked him to
explain just what goes wrong and why. The man who has designed over 120 productions of
musicals, plays, operas, and Las Vegas spectaculars sat down and discussed his misunderstood,
maligned and underappreciated profession.
Deans is a sound designer, not a sound engineer - there is a difference. "A sound engineer stays
with the show every night," explained English born and bred Deans."A sound designer makes the
specifications of the equipment, makes sure the equipment is set up correctly and makes the sound
work - does all of the creative effects, mixing of orchestra and voice. The sound designer
directs the sound engineer in how the sound should sound for the production. The sound designer
works with the actors, musicians, composers, producers and finally the audience. After the
opening the sound designer - like all the other designers - leaves. The sound engineer continues
and tries to maintain that goal every night, show by show."
Whatever happened to a stage actor projecting his voice?
"It's not that the actors have gotten worse and aren't able to project. It's that the audience
doesn't want to listen anymore - especially when they've paid $70-$80 - you want it delivered to
you," he answered. "If you'd paid $80 to see a show you want to be able to sit there and hear
100%. In the past the reality was, when you went to shows your concentration level had to be so
high to actually hear. We listened differently then, because we weren't spoiled or damaged -
however you want to look at it - by all of the high-tech equipment that we have in our homes,
cars and pockets. Therefore, there is some attempt to bring that into the theater."
If you guys are so good why do so many events sound so bad? "There are handfuls of problems,"
Deans patiently answered. "If the equipment supplied is cheap - you get what you pay for. Sound
checks are important. Was the equipment set up properly? It could be brilliant equipment, but if
it's been set up incorrectly, then you have a problem." During the recent Tony Award telecast the
audience could occasionally hear Tony winner Martin Short perform.
"Martin Short's microphone was cutting in and out. His microphone was on the center of his
head, in his hairline, because it's the best - cleanest - way to make the sound get to the mike,"
"When he came out his hat was right on top of the microphone, pushing the microphone head. He
probably squeezed his hat on so it wouldn't fall off. As he pushed the hat on he probably broke
the mike. Therefore, who is responsible? " the sound designer questioned and then answered, "I
think Martin Short. This happens all the time, especially on big occasions, which are opening
nights and live transmission. Sighed Deans, "it sucks."
FOR A FAT LADY YOU DON'T
HATS ARE ALWAYS A PROBLEM
"It's also the sweat level that gets into the microphone," he explained. "We' re talking a
microphone that is half the size of your little fingernail. A little drip of sweat goes across the
microphone head and covers the tiny hole that the sound was transmitting into.Scale wise, that's
like a swimming pool to listen through. So, it sounds like it's under water, which in effect, it
"Then the sweat has salt in it and the salt gets into the electronics that are sitting on the
microphone head. It stars crackling and then it dies. That was a situation that was very bad for
10-12 years. In the last couple of years people have started to deal with it because people were
saying - this is awful!.
"We have to deal with hats," continued Deans. "When hats come down it makes a little shelf. It's
like cupping your hand over your mouth. It changes the sound of your voice. So, one has to deal
with rims and brims, to see what effect that has on the microphone.
IT'S ALL BASIC PHYSICS
People listen to a cast recording or hear a song played on the radio and decide they'd like to see
the show. What you'll hear in person is not necessarily going to equal what you heard on a
recording. "When a performer is recording, they are singing in front of a microphone as big as
your fist and singing especially to that microphone," emphasized Deans.
"There is basic physics here," Dean elaborated."You double the distance of the microphone to the
source - in this case the mouth - you half the level and half the quality. If I'm singing into a
microphone that is one inch away from my mouth, let's say that is the optimum recording
distance. When I take the microphone two inches away, I've just halved my level and halved the
quality. Then at four inches away, I have halved it again. So, now I have 25% of the quality that I
should be and I'm only four inches away from the microphone. Usually the head area of the
microphone is about eight inches away, so I am then down to 12% of the quality and level that I
should be compared to a regular recording.
"A pit orchestra can sound beautiful, because my microphones are where I want them. No one
cares where the microphones are because the audience is watching the performer not (or can't
see) the orchestra.
"But, we have an actor on stage who sounds only 12% as good as they should - and- you can't
make anything sound better than the actor. So, you have to degrade the orchestra down lower
than 12%, so you just make the orchestra sound - bad.
"The other thing is the musicians," added Deans. "There are some instruments that are loud by
nature. But there are instruments that are played loud because the musician doesn't care about
what he is playing. This is a problem in the pit when you have musicians who have been playing a
piece for six months or longer. It's a job. They go in and are just playing. I'm generalizing here,"
quickly cautioned Deans who added, "they don't care what they are playing.
"I'll have an individual on stage that I'm miking as little as possible - just enough so I can get him
over the orchestra. Now, the orchestra has to be tightly controlled by the conductor. When they
are allowed to play otherwise, it will bury the performer on stage - and - up goes the sound level
of the microphones. What was a nice acoustical show is now sounding neither amplified nor
acoustical. It's just sounding shameful!
"I think the toughest thing in a Broadway show is being able to place the loud speakers where you
need them to actually get the best sound in the theater," Deans related. "That means negotiating
with the set designer and lighting designer.
The second biggest problem is getting the performer to respect the mike that they are wearing,
and make sure the microphone is as close to the same place night after night as possible."
Few acting classes teach microphone techniques beyond a hand held mike. What if an actor
doesn't fully understand that the little hidden mike is not junk jewelry?
"A microphone gets strapped onto the actor's head and they believe it's up to the sound person to
fix the problem," replied Deans. "But, if you look at it that way, then all of that acting training
that have had has gone out the window - because they are letting some engineer sit there and
make choices of how loud or quiet they should be throughout the evening. The engineer is also
making choices for the other 40 people on the stage as well, So, the whole feel and control are
actually being done by the sound person.
GET YOUR SOUND OUT OF MY
"Who else is in the area of that performance space is transmitting frequencies very close to the
frequency you are transmitting," questioned Deans. "It's like driving from one town to another
while listening to the radio. You might find the classical station you are listening to becomes
country, because it's suddenly a completely different station. The same thing happens in a theater.
Except we are dealing with tiny transmission levels, smaller than a cell phone. That is all that is
allowed (by the FCC) who are the regulators on the equipment we use. We have to make sure
that no one is anywhere close to our transmissions. Otherwise, you get sound dropping in and
out, or you might hear something else coming through.
"Some people see sound as not being creative, but it's the one thing that is constantly changing. If
you look at lighting - there is a color that they put in front of the light bulb and that never
changes. There is voltage that is put into that light bulb, which is fixed. There is a fixed color and
a fixed voltage, but with sound - that is changing constantly."
"The perception of "turn it up" becomes a perception of being exciting. Certainly, some things
are. But, if you have something that is rubbish and you magnify it - all you have is a louder pile of
Next week Jonathan Deans discusses Las Vegas shows, touring Broadway shows and what the
future holds for sound engineers/designers.
Due to numerous problems the Denver Center Theater Company has dropped three shows.
Executive producer Randy Weeks has been busy regrouping.
Poor ticket sales caused; Picasso at the Lapin Agile, to get the heave ho. The Wizard
of Oz, currently in California, has been struck from the Sept. 21- Oct. 3 Buell Theatre stage
because it takes too long to set up. Also off the boards is A Man For All Seasons
announced as the Jan. 4-23 offering because Derek Jacobi didn't commit.
Replacing will be the third of the Tuna Trilogy Red, White and Blue Tuna, starring Joe
Sears and Jaston Williams. Cathy Rigby, currently on Broadway in Peter Pan will be
hoisted around the country on the nation tour. She'll be flying into Denver's Buell Theatre Jan
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THE LAST NIGHT AT BALLYHOO
runs through July 10 at the Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center. Author Alfred Uhry just picked
another Tony for his book for Parade. He isn't relaxing after his third Tony win.
His next projects include: an upcoming made-for-TV movie of Ballyhoo, which will be
directed by Bruce Beresford, who also did the same for Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy; a new
musical based on the love story Light On The Piazza, and a movie about the New York
murder of Kitty Genovese. As for Parade the serious musical about an innocent Jewish
man, Leo Frank, who was lynched by a bigoted mob in 1915 Georgia, goes on a nationwide tour
next year, beginning in Atlanta.
MICHAEL LEARNED AND RALPH WAITE are reunited for the first time since they starred in the 1970's TV series
The Waltons. Victor Slezak, who plays JFK in the Broadway production of Jackie
co-stars They open June 28 at the Westport Playhouse, starring in press agent turned playwright,
Kevin Rehac's Chasing Monsters, a comedy about a stolen painting and a monster in a
POLLY DRAPER best known as
Ellyn Waren on the hit series thirtysomething, for which she received an Emmy
nomination, has joined the cast of Patrick Marber's award-winning Broadway play Closer.
The part was rewritten so Draper doesn't have to use an English accent. Yankee speak is okay.
Draper, who received her Master's degree from Yale School of Drama.has numerous Broadway
credits. Upcoming films include Eighteen Shades of Dust and The Tic Code,
which she wrote, produced and stars in with Gregory Hines.
KENNY KIRKLAND: A MUSICAL CELEBRATION with Branford Marsalis, Jeff Watts, Sting, Harry Connick, Jr., Mulgrew
Miller and others. Beacon Theater, NYC June 25.
JOHN TRAVOLTA expected to join
Barbra Streisand at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, New Year's Eve. Rumors are being solidified
THIS AND THAT
EMILY SKINNER who received a
Tony nomination for her co-starring role in Side Show was in Denver over the weekend
to lend her expertise to the Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League performers
in their production of Side Show, which is playing through July 25 in the Space Theater.
Side Show is the story inspired by the lives of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. On
Broadway Skinner co-starred with Alice Ripley, who is currently in the Broadway production of
MAYNARD FERGUSON is the
featured entertainment at the 25th Omaha Summer Arts Festival June 25-27. Set in downtown
Omaha the Festival features 275 of the country's finest visual artists and three stages of
SPECIAL OLYMPICS WORLD SUMMER GAMES expected to be the world's largest sporting event this year. About 7,000
athletes from 150 countries will compete in 19 events. June 26-July 4. Raleigh, the capital of
North Carolina is the host city.
WWF GIVES UP on the Debbie
Reynolds Hotel, which they purchased in Las Vegas. The World Wrestling Federation, owned by
the Stamford, Conn. Based Titan Sports, Inc.is reported to be looking at other properties for its
wrestling-themed resort. Debbie's old place, with time-share units, is now deemed too small and
the WWF will sell the place.Weighing in on the matter; the recent death of wrestler Owen Hart
and difficulty in the WWF working out a deal with the owners of the time share units.
Mention BROADWAY TO VEGAS for Special Consideration
Call (800) 942-9027
Next Column: June 28, 1999
Copyright: June 21, 1999. All Rights Reserved. Reviews,
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