Review: ‘Stereophonic,’ about a band under pressure, is a Broadway show not to be missed

NEW YORK — Just before the end of playwright David Adjmi’s masterful “Stereophonic,” a three-hour dissection of ego, insecurity and the messy, messed-up gorgeousness of the creative process, I decided I’d had enough of these beautiful people in the recording studio with their complaints, their cocaine, their obsessive-compulsive neuroses, their phenomenal talents. A Zen-like “Let it be” had twisted in my skull to “Let me out.”

And then I realized that was precisely what Adjmi wanted everyone at the Golden Theatre to be feeling at the final curtain. He’d just explained why great bands break up; why famous geniuses who seemingly have all the gifts, money, autonomy, adulation and sex that anyone could possibly want just can’t hold it together; why having a Billboard hit does not stop the childhood-driven imposter syndrome ringing inside your brain but actually makes it louder.

Heck, I’ll go even further: He’d just explained why things end. Period.

What a brilliant piece of must-see Broadway. It’s Chekhovian, babe.

Adjmi is hardly the first playwright to figure out that the expression of deep truths only flows from obsessive attention to detail: that’s true of his characters, who spend what feels like hours adjusting a rattling drum, and it’s true of Adjmi’s writing, Daniel Aukin’s phenomenal direction, David Zinn’s mind-blowing set, and the fearless acting from Sarah Pidgeon and Tom Pecinka, especially, but really an entire cast also made up of Will Brill, Andrew R. Butler (playing the Firs in this “Cherry Orchard”), Juliana Canfield, the deceptively complicated Eli Gelb and the rich Chris Stack. Everything and everyone feels real. Relentlessly so.

“Stereophonic,” first seen at Playwrights Horizons, is about a famous British band making a studio album in California between the summers of 1976 and 1977. You never see their lives outside of the recording studio laid out before you on the stage, but you do hear them sing. The show clearly was influenced by Peter Jackson’s restored “The Beatles: Get Back,” a killer marathon documentary about the making of the album “Let It Be” in 1970 even as the band was battling for control and well outside the edenic strawberry fields. But we’re watching a band with male and female members, thus suggesting the story of Fleetwood Mac, the band known for its internal sexual shenanigans as well as its love of locking itself inside a studio for weeks or months at a time and fighting, crying, composing and birthing a phenomenal album.

Since this band is fictional, they sing way-cool original songs by Will Butler that feel like they could be on a Fleetwood Mac album like “Mirage.” The singing is live and everything you’re hearing is (I think) analog, as run through the console controlled by Gelb’s Grover, the engineer who has to hold this crazy crew together, maybe benevolently, maybe for his own benefit, maybe both. Few playwrights are as unsentimental as Adjmi and no one here gets a pass: Pidgeon, who should break out with this performance, hurts your heart.

In the end, the show hardly is just about music, but any time people get together to create, including a Broadway show. Pecinka’s Peter, the Paul of this show, is that guy, the man who feels like he needs to collaborate but really can’t because he knows he can do it all better himself. That’s his gift and his curse.

The rest of us can just watch, thrilled and afeared.

Those are the twin channels of “Stereophonic.” Don’t wait. Tickets will be hard to get.


At the John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., New York;