As one of the most sought-after sound designers on Broadway, Brian Ronan's job is to make sure that everyone in the audience—from the front row to the balcony—hears every note the orchestra plays and every word the actors sing in perfect harmony. Thanks to his technical expertise and finely tuned ear, the ragtag orphans in the current revival of Annie at the Palace Theatre have never sounded better and the audience doesn't miss a hysterical punch line in The Book of Mormon at the Eugene O'Neill. This spring he'll reunite with Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp, whom he worked with on Rent, for the new musical If/Then, and showcase Carole King's music on Broadway in Beautiful.
Why did you want to be a sound designer on Broadway? Brian Ronan: Everyone wanted to be a lighting designer, but nobody wanted to be a sound guy, so I thought it might be easier to get work, and it kind of turned out to be true. Once I was sold on that, I found out I had an affinity for it, and it kind of just fell together. I started working on Off-Broadway shows back in the '80s and have been doing it ever since, but my family and friends still refer to me as a lighting designer and I don’t even bother to correct them anymore.
You've worked on a wide range of Broadway shows, from Green Day's American Idiot to Annie…is designing the sound for one type of show more challenging than another? BR: With a show like Annie—an old-school musical with an orchestra and pit—it's not that it's easier to do; it's just a more predictable formula to follow. When there's a loud rock 'n' roll drummer in the center of the stage and he's the centerpiece of the scenery [like in American Idiot], then the job is to make everything work around that. Billie Joe Armstrong writes this sometimes kind of obscure, beautiful, lyrical poetry, so you have to make sure you get those words across to the audience. You have to deliver the story clearly, and that task is a little easier on Annie and it's a lot harder on an American Idiot or Rent or Spring Awakening, but that's what makes the job a little bit bigger.
What do you do in the City when you're not making Broadway sound better? BR: I spend my mornings walking my dog in Central Park. I'm an avid bike rider—not one of those guys with the funny outfits and the Italian words scrawled all over, I just like to ride a bike. And I play softball in the Broadway show league. When I'm in Midtown, I find myself at Trattoria Trecolori, an Italian restaurant on 47th Street. It's always easy to get a table there, and they [always] remember you. I also like Thalia on 50th Street. If you're up in Harlem, where I live, the Harlem Tavern's my new favorite spot in town. Cédric is an awesome little bistro on 119th Street. I just went to Jado Sushi and it was really good. There's also the beer garden Bier International, which is really cool on 113th. So much is opening around here—it's a real neighborhood that's coming to life.