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May 16, 2024
At the Recording Studio
Photo by julieta Cervantes

Imagine you are the fly on the wall in a recording studio. One of your favorite groups is scheduled to record its latest album. It’s the 1970’s, and the group has an album on The Billboard charts. That's what it’s like sitting in the audience at “Stereophonic," the new play by David Adjmi.

Although the five performers in the three hour play have different names, they seem familiar. Could they be based upon Fleetwood Mac? Three of the performers are British and two American. The British couple is married but their relationship is turbulent. She's on the keyboard, and he’s on the bass guitar. They squabble, break up and get back together but eventually will separate. Then there is the American couple who has been together for years. She has a smoky voice and he’s an outstanding guitarist.

Simon (Chris Stack), the drummer, tries to keep the group together, but drugs and egos get in the way. Reg (Will Brill) is the bassist and is so into drugs and alcohol that he’s often slurring his words and sitting huddled by himself. Sometimes it becomes difficult to understand what he is saying. Reg is married to keyboardist and singer Holly (Juliana Canfield) who seems to be the most well-balanced. Diana (Sarah Pidgeon) is the American singer who has been with Peter for years. Although she even has her own single in the top ten, she’s insecure about her talents.However, rather than support her, Peter (Tom Pecinka) lets his own jealousy get in the way. The two women bond and Holly tries to give Diana confidence, but it’s difficult when she is manipulated by Peter.

Not only is the business hard but when egos get in the way, it’s even more difficult. The recording that originally was to take several weeks takes a year. Everyone (including the audience) is getting a bit worn out.

By that time, sound engineer Grover (Eli Gelb) who had been peripheral and almost an observer, becomes more of an integral character to the story. Sometimes he tries to mediate between the flaring tempers and ego-centric musicians to control the pop group that is spiraling out of control. Fueled by drugs and egos, somehow they still manage to produce incredible music. Grover’s assistant, the awkward goofy Charlie (Andrew R. Butler,) provides a figurative sounding board for him. Often the two appear to be the only sane ones in the studio.

The music by Will Butler of Arcade Fire sounds authentic for the time and the songs are superb.The fictional band plays its own instruments and provides its own vocals which makes the action even more convincing. Although the actors are not professional singers and musicians, they are splendid at performing the music. (I’d buy the album!) All the action occurs in California recording studios (Scenic design by David Zinn.)

“Stereophonic” will resonate with music fans, especially those who think they ‘recognize’ the group. But you don’t have to be a fan to appreciate it. The play is lengthy, three hours, but the music breaks up the dialogue. Under Daniel Aukin's deft direction, the dialogue flows naturally as characters argue and interrupt and at times, talk about nothing consequential which makes the play more realistic.

The play enjoyed a sold-out world premiere Off-Broadway and has made a successful move to Broadway, garnering several theater nominations. As fans, we merely buy the albums and listen to the music. Sometimes noting the artistry, we still have little idea of what went on to make the music. "Stereophonic” provides us with the inner workings, giving us a greater appreciation of the music.

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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