If you work in musical theater, Michael J. Moritz Jr. is either in your speed dial or should be. The Emmy and Tony-award winning Broadway producer, Grammy-nominated musical director, music supervisor, mixer, pianist, and yes — audio expert — calls Broadway home, and it seems quite happy to call him a marquee resident. He is a co-producer for Hadestown, earning him a 2019 Tony Award for Best Musical, and most recently before that he won an Emmy for his audio work on From Broadway with Love: A Benefit for Orlando. Other tips of the accolade iceberg include two Tony nominations for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and On The Town, as well as collaborations with such titans of theater as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters. Equally gifted as muso and techie, he keeps his personal Lectrosonics M2 Duet kit — comprising M2T transmitters and M2R receivers — at arm’s reach. In this interview, he shares use cases including in-ear monitoring, IFB, comms, and talent cueing under conditions where mistakes or delays are not an option.
Let’s start with a little bit of your musical background.
I started taking piano lessons at age five. I was an ear player from the start, which was the impetus to get me into lessons. No one was else musical in my family! In high school I was introduced to theater, and this sparked my interest in pursuing a career in show business. All the while, my piano teacher was a recording artist, and he had me in the recording studio at a young age. In college, I was an Electrical Engineering major.
I’m originally from Youngstown, Ohio but I’ve worked in New York City forever. I’m a hoarder of keyboard instruments as well. I learned music direction for theater, which means you sort of need to be in New York City.
What is your favorite music to listen to, and what’s in rotation on your playlist right now?
I'm all over the map. You could have me committed on my playlist diversity alone! I love so much that has great groove. To that end, Cory Henry, Snarky Puppy, and anything on which Greg Phillinganes has played. I love Bruce Hornsby, and in folk-pop, The Staves. Lizzy McAlpine is also one of the most interesting voices I’ve heard, and anything with the producer Zedd on it is fantastic. Let’s see, in addition, Tori Amos, Florence and the Machine, and of course The Beatles.
When you sit down to play piano for enjoyment, what do you choose?
Sometimes I’ll grab a conductor’s score and play along to the record for fun. Other times it’s Oscar Peterson, still others, Stevie Wonder. It really depends on my mood.
You have one foot in sound and the other in music. In what capacity do you normally work on shows?
I’m usually the showrunner or producer or wearing the musical director hat — or all of them. I’ve found myself squarely between recording studio work and live work. Hence, I do a whole lot of TV production that involves Broadway and musical theater. I also produce records such as Broadway cast albums. Once you get established in New York, it’s wild how you run in concentric circles with other people. I guess you could say I’ve found my groove.
Those roles commonly make one a “customer” of the sound department, but you’re a lot more hands-on.
I’m a total tech nerd, and that’s what sparked my interest in Lectrosonics. I work on a lot of live-switched television broadcasts. The need for IFB is there, as is the need for in-ear monitors. When I went researching systems, though, I was initially just looking for a nice little IEM solution for myself. I do a lot of fly dates and corporate gigs with “name” artists where I’ll put the band together and musical-direct. I wanted something that was both digital and super low latency. I wanted something that could patch right into the venue and other sound vendors working the job via Dante — I wanted to just hit their network and have that be it. Lectrosonics was the only brand I found that could do that at the time. I’ve had my M2 Duet stuff almost three years now.
How did the M2 Duet system go from your personal IEM to other uses?
Yeah, as just my own in-ear setup, I loved it. The audio quality was fantastic, the display was great, and the packs felt indestructible. Then I started realizing I could do many other things with it. Where it’s recently found a home in my production work is, because it has Dante, it can interface directly to anyone’s intercom frames. I patch the M2T units right into Dante, which can then bridge out to Telex or ClearCom or any other type of intercom. And it just works. I also love the density, physically speaking. The fact that you can fit two stereo channels in a half-rack space is amazing.
I'm all over the map. I think you could have me committed solely on my playlist diversity alone!
You mentioned talent cueing in your initial communications with Lectrosonics. Can you describe doing that in the heat of battle, so to speak?
Absolutely! I think their guy Karl Winkler, who has just been fantastic to deal with, may be most interested in this aspect. There’s this two-hour live broadcast from Times Square called Curtain Up. It’s a revue where multiple Broadway casts perform, and each cast does a number from their show. There are a couple of hosts, some interviews, and some experiential things for guests. It’s a free event open to the plaza, and thousands of people show up.
So, it’s essentially like a live musical TV variety show but with a huge studio audience?
We do it in the fall at the top of the Broadway season. It was a live internet stream for a while and now it’s a broadcast. When we migrated to broadcast, Lectrosonics was the clear solution. Amber Ruffin and Jesse Tyler Ferguson were the hosts in 2022. I put my two [M2R] packs on them. It was great because it wasn’t just lo-fi ear-tube type stuff. It was really nice, low-latency audio. I could send great program audio to them but also use it as an IFB for cueing and talkback. Again, I can’t overstate the convenience of Dante. It was super easy for us to get that signal to our onsite comms vendor, who had an RTS intercom system as well as some FreeSpeak stuff. Our Lectrosonics packs became listen-only packs by virtue of Dante. There was no nonsense about two-wire-versus four-wire, no nulling, none of the stuff you’re usually concerned about when faced with someone else’s comms system.
Are you finding more digital switches and patch points where you do one-off gigs?
Three years ago, I would never have thought I’d be saying this, but yes. About half the time, crews I meet up with are now saying, “We’ll just take a Cat-5 [Ethernet] cable” and patching in digitally. We’re finally hitting the point where it’s not all analog anymore.
What were the biggest challenges of working in Times Square, with such a huge attendance, and broadcasting to live TV?
First of all, Times Square may be the noisiest RF environment on the planet. It’s definitely in the top three. Of course, with so many vendors, Lectro was not the only brand of RF equipment onsite. But we had no problems with our end — no range issues, crosstalk, dropouts, anything like that. We just dumped a trailer into the middle of Times Square, set up audio on a folding table about 100 feet from the stage. No issues.
Can you thrill us with a production nightmare story where you somehow came through unscathed?
Hah! What week of my life do you want to talk about? What I do is sort of like being a conductor — you’re looking at the orchestra pit with one eye and the stage with the other. With Curtain Up, about 25 casts committed to perform. We got one dress run before the broadcast, which was all live with just a ten-second delay.
The worst thing that can happen is a last-minute change. A lot of people from theatrical will say, “We’ll just work it out onstage.” A skilled cast can do that in the theater. But in TV, there are commercials, interstitials, interviews, and other segments, and you have to be on and off the air down to the second. The morning of the event, two cast members were unable to perform, and one of these changed mid-rehearsal. So, it was critical to be able to discretely tell our hosts, “Talk for two more minutes” or “We’re going to run another commercial from inventory.” With the M2Rs on them, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about them hearing me clearly!
Music is more affected by audio quality than spoken dialogue in a movie. What are your impressions of Lectrosonics digital in this regard?
What initially kept me away from digital in general was, everything else I had tried as a piano player and singer, I would hear the comb filtering as a result of latency. I grew up in the studio and my ears are very fussy. The quality of Lectrosonics is fantastic; it’s the first digital wireless I find to be truly usable on musical applications. It sounds like an analog system, in the best way. I don’t hear compression artifacts and that’s a first.
For people aspiring to a career similar to yours, can you talk about the advantages of your multi-disciplinary skills?
That’s the thing, right? When I came from Ohio so many years ago, people looked at me like, “Why don’t you just focus on one thing?” whatever that thing was. Specialization is the norm in any kind of creative or media work. Now I’m realizing that what was such an oddity back then is the reason I still have a career today. I speak total tech but can switch gears and be very client-friendly and understand the big picture stuff. Then I can go back and silo with different departments about things like sound or lighting cues. At the end of the day, I’m still a production guy and a musician at heart, and I think that’s invaluable for the more macro tasks like directing shows.
Can you sum up your experience of Lectrosonics as a tool? A brand?
I’ve always thought of Lectrosonics as an aspirational brand for most. I’ve associated it with all the top-tier segments of our business; i.e.: TV and film productions. Similarly to names like Arri, it was something most people outside of film production didn’t know existed. I’m glad to see people pivoting into using them for musical theater, rock concerts, and even recording studio applications, because the audio quality is beyond good enough to do that. But if I were to sum up Lectro in one sentence, it’s time-tested, trusted tech for pros.