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The cast of Stereophonic (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)



By Deirdre Donovan


David Adjmi's Stereophonic, meticulously directed by Daniel Aukin, comes to Broadway with a ton of buzz. Following its sold-out run at Playwrights Horizons last season, it has winged five blocks over to the Golden Theatre, bringing all of its theatrical magic with it.

The premise: The year is 1976, and a British-American band on the cusp of superstardom is recording their next album in Sausalito, California. We never learn the band's name nor listens to the single that catapulted them to fame. But over the course of three hours, the audience will eavesdrop on its five members and two fledgling engineers confined together in a studio for 12 months, learning their fears, weaknesses, addictions, and dreams.

David Zinn's set conjures up a windowless studio with a control room downstage and a sound room upstage, enclosed in glass. It evokes the famous Record Plant in Sausalito where the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sammy Hagar, and Fleetwood Mac blocked time and lay down tracks in the 70s.

We meet the quintet in the opening scene: There's the alcoholic bassist Reg (Will Brill) who launched the band with the drummer and manager de facto Simon (Chris Stack), who has a wife and children back in the UK. Reg is married to keyboardist and vocalist Holly (Juliana Canfield), the most down-to-earth person in the group. She also is a rock to fellow vocalist Diana (Sarah Pidgeon), who, in spite of her song becoming the band's breakout hit, is insecure in her art. Diana's boyfriend, the guitarist-producer Peter (Tom Pecinka), is a highly gifted but overbearing musician who, more often than not, creates tension in the studio every time he enters the space.

The assistant engineer Charlie (Andrew R. Butler) has the distinction of being a cousin to Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers. This impresses rookie engineer Grover (Eli Gelb), who is an "outsider" and knows nobody in the business to give him a hand up. Things grow more complicated when Grover naïvely confides in Charlie that he embellished his resumé to get his current job (he implied that he was the tech engineer for The Eagles). Incensed, Charlie immediately lashes out at Grover for lying:

Charlie: You lied?

Grover: A white lie.

Charlie: That's not a white lie that's-that's significant.

Grover: I worked on the album. I assisted. So it's not a lie-or it's a lie by omission. They didn't ask so I didn't say anything.

Charlie: I don't know man that's pretty nefarious.


Tom Pecinka, Sarah Pidgeon (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

Stereophonic immerses the audience in the authentic environment of a rock band, right down to the technical minutiae of the recording process. But, even if you can't understand a stretch of dialogue, no worries. The ongoing action and natural flow of the next lines of conversation inevitably will keep everybody in the loop of the story.

Adjmi's script cleverly employs overlapping dialogue, pregnant pauses, cold silences, giggles, and sotto voce remarks throughout. And it effectively captures the actual patterns of communication and miscommunication among the group.

Stereophonic is not structured like a conventional play. It moseys along rather than following a clear-cut trajectory. That said, its steely spine eventually can be detected as its eccentric characters interact with one another and reveal their various issues. There's the hard-drinking Reg who hopes his longsuffering wife Holly will stay with him. There's the charismatic singer Diana who fears having a baby with her long-time boyfriend Peter will upend her career. Then there's the brokenhearted Simon who, after learning that his wife has decided to leave him, desperately tells Holly:

Simon: "She was going to come out to L.A. with the kids but that's shot. I just think they all hate me. I need to see my f***ing children. I can't be without them."

Although theatergoers of a certain age may well find Stereophonic a nostalgic journey back to the 70s, with its nods to musical super groups and artists like Otis Redding and Todd Rundgren, you don't have to be a baby boomer to enjoy this hypernaturalistic play. Indeed, it can appeal to anybody who has ever wondered about the excruciating struggle that goes on when an artist attempts to be true to his, or her, art and the community as well. Or as Peter pleads to his bandmates:

Peter: "Don't you want to be brotherly between us? Don't you want to be more than just a bunch of strangers playing music together? I want that. I want us to have dinner together! And eat Simon's chicken!"


Sarah Pidgeon (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

Enver Chakartash's costumes are spot-on for the 70s, a mix of tight jeans, vests, loose-fitting shirts for the men, halter tops for the women, sweater coats and jackets, and fashion-forward boots. The multiple costume changes for each performer effectively points up the passage of time and changing seasons.

The ensemble acting is superb, with each performer convincingly inhabiting their character. Considering that the cast not only had to memorize their lines but several performers (with the exception of Chris Stack, Andrew R. Butler, and Eli Gelb) had to learn to play their instruments as well.

Another plus to the production is that the audience gets treated to some brilliant original songs like "Masquerade" and "East of Eden," written by the Grammy award-winning and Oscar-nominated Will Butler (a member of the band Arcade Fire until 2022). What's more, the audience not only get to listen to the polished songs but witness the blood, sweat, and tears that bring them to birth.

Ultimately, Stereophonic is a docudrama about artists struggling to live together as they create their art. The group gradually learns what Aristotle long ago pointed out as a profound truth: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." 


At the Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45 St., Manhattan.

Running time: 3 hours with intermission.