Seating nearly 8,000 patrons, Starlight Theatre has been a staple of Kansas City’s performing arts community since it first opened in 1950. Hosting a full calendar of Broadway plays and musicals each summer season - not to mention numerous concerts, corporate events, weddings and fundraisers - many classic productions have trod the boards of the large open-air venue over the years, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Oliver!, Hair, Camelot, Sweet Charity and West Side Story.
As to be expected, Starlight, which is operated by the not-for-profit Starlight Theatre Association, has been through a few sound systems in its time, with the last one holding out for the past 14 seasons, replaced this year by a new L-Acoustics KARA Modular WST line source loudspeaker system installed over the winter.
The new house system, designed by Dallas-based Idibri (formerly Acoustic Dimensions) and installed by Clair Brothers Audio Systems Nashville, includes 48 KARA line array modules divided into three hangs of 16 each, positioned left, center and right along a steel framework above the proscenium stage.
Flanking either side of the center hang and the outside of the left and right arrays are flown arrays of six SB18 subwoofers accompanied by eight ground-stacked SB28 subwoofers split between the left and right sides of the stage floor. Proscenium fills are handled by two ARCS WIDE and two ARCS FOCUS, one each per side, while six tiny 5XT coaxial loudspeakers and three larger 8XT enclosures comprise the front-fill complement. Sixteen LA8 amplified controllers power the system.
“We put a lot of effort into choosing the new sound system,” states Justin White, Starlight Theatre director of operations and theater plant, noting the winnowing process began with five loudspeaker systems that Idibri project manager Ryan Knox suggested Starlight investigate. This field was eventually narrowed down to three finalists, for whom Idibri arranged a demo that let dozens of Starlight staffers, board members, donors and city officials listen to audio systems in the venue itself and do an A-B-C comparison using the same program material.
They emphasized the key criteria of intelligibility and music reproduction, as well as other areas of importance, such as the ability of the system components to endure outdoor use throughout what Barb Schulte, Starlight director of communications and outreach, euphemized as Kansas City’s “challenging weather environment, especially in summertime.” And, says White, it became clear very shortly who the winner would be. “After as little as 10 minutes for some individuals in attendance, it was unanimous: everyone loved the way the L-Acosutics system sounded.”
Kent Andel, production manager for the theatre, says he was a fan of the previous system because of the warmth of its sound, but says that the new system exceeds its performance in a number of ways. “The intelligibility we need for diction and dialog are all there,” he says. “At the same time, it works for music. So the L-Acoustics system won hands down.”
The system is showing its versatility; it’s already been divided into three mini arrays—each with two SB18s, six KARA modules and all four ARCS enclosures—and used indoors in the Jeannette and Jerome Cohen Community Stage that’s part of the Starlight Theatre complex for off-season private events, receptions and parties. “In addition to sounding great, it’s also a very flexible system,” White says. “It’s as loud as we needed it to be, super clear, flexible and just a great choice for us.”