Andrew Lillywhite and musicals belong together, but Andrew has a particularly special connection to The Phantom of the Opera. Andrew has worked for Sennheiser UK for decades, although he was already dealing with Sennheiser wireless technology in his previous job for a rental company.
Since its premiere in 1986, The Phantom of the Opera has appeared at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End of London. It is considered the most successful musical of all time. Her Majesty’s Theatre and the Phantom go way back—and its connection with Sennheiser is just as enduring. All those years ago, Martin Levan, the sound designer, was looking for something extra special, explains Andrew Lillywhite. “Martin had already used Sennheiser equipment for other productions and the list of technical requirements for Phantom meant the rental company I worked for was perfectly placed to provide the equipment for the show. They supplied exactly what Martin asked for.” Since then, the Phantom, Her Majesty’s Theatre and Sennheiser have formed a successful team in London.
“The mixing console has changed brand several times. The loudspeakers have changed brand. The rental company supplying the sound equipment has changed its name and has twice re-located. But the wireless mics are still Sennheiser.” And it was Andrew who installed the original equipment in the early days: EM 1036 receivers, SK 2012 (VHF) transmitters and MKE 2 microphones. The frequencies and the systems have also changed a few times. First of all to EM 1046 and SK 50. The SK 50 were later replaced by the SK5012, and finally in 2019—in yet another change overseen by Andrew—the Sennheiser 6000 system was introduced with EM 6000 and SK 6212.
“I put the original sound system in – with others! - and I wrote the purchase order to Hayden Laboratories, the Sennheiser distributor in the UK back then for the original wireless mics,” Andrew laughs, “of course back then the order was still written by hand rather than typed! I went back to Her Majesty’s Theatre, this time on behalf of Sennheiser, to supervise the wireless mic refurbishment when the current sound designer, Mick Potter, took over.”
And were there magical moments? Oh yes, says Andrew. “Here are a couple that spring to mind right now. An early one was the first time I heard the orchestra through Martin Levan’s original sound system. It did not feel as though they were being amplified, it just lifted the orchestra out of the pit and in to the auditorium, quite special.” On another occasion he was there while the composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, was working with the orchestra and witnessed how within a very short time “really good” became “great”. “I had never seen and heard that happen before and it felt like a real privilege to be there at that moment.”
The last time Andrew got goosebumps was after switching the technical equipment to Digital 6000. “I heard the cast singing through the new radio mics and in certain scenes I was hearing words with a clarity that I have not even heard on the studio CD recording.”