Monday, May 27, 2024

Broadway: Fleetwood Mac’s 70s Soap Opera is Now a Play Whether They Like it Or Not


I don’t know what the surviving members of Fleetwood Mac have made of “Stereophonic.”

The play about a mid 70s rock band taking three years to record their masterpiece has opened at the St. James Theater to raves. I saw it last night. This was the place to be: Hugh Jackman was sitting next to me. Lucas Hedges was in front of me. Carla Gugino was in the audience.

“Stereophonic” with music by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler opened at Playwrights Horizons last fall and immediately sold out. The play is by David Adjmi and is directed by Daniel Aukin. No matter how you slice it this a three hour, four act play with music about Fleetwood Mac recording “Rumours” back in 1976. The five members of the band were sleeping and fighting with each other. This is not about Led Zeppelin or an imagined group. It’s dead on Mac. And cheese.

The trick they’ve pulled off is bringing together a group of actors with no musical background who have formed a real band. Also, Butler’s songs are legit faux Fleetwood down to the harmonies and rhythms. It works.

Chris Stack is Simon, the drummer. aka Mick Fleetwood. Then there are two couples — Sarah Pidgeon as Stevie Nicks, Tom Pecinka as Lindsey Buckingham, Juliana Canfield as Christine McVie, and Will Brill (who you’ll recognized as Midge’s brother from “Mrs. Maisel”) as John McVie. They have character names, but they don’t matter.

The band — which has no name — is being babysat by two humorous audio engineers played by Eli Gelb and Andrew R. Butler.

“Stereophonic” — especially in the first act — is overlong and repetitive. But what it gets right is the setting — a recording studio — and the boredom of fiddling around to get an album right. The finished album is the product of composing, collaborating, and fighting to get it all right. In the case of “Rumours,” this was hard since the McVies’ marriage was splitting apart, Buckingham and Nicks were romantically over, and Fleetwood was stirring the pot. How they made any records at all remains a mystery that Aukin is trying to solve.

Sometimes there are moment of great clarity. There are also a lot of tears as the women, especially, are realizing their importance to the group but are having trouble asserting power. Sometimes “Stereophonic” seems like DA Pennebaker directing a cinema verite “Spinal Tap.”

The producers are using quotes from Talking Heads’ David Byrne to promote the show. He would understand about a band making great records despite fighting internally all the time. The “Stereophonic” band represents every group in a way, even the Beatles (and there are a couple of lines taken right from “Let it Be” when George Harrison becomes fed up with Paul McCartney).

The charm here is the performers, who turn out to be very talented (even as they told the NY Times, it’s accidental). Their English accents are spot on. Their singing and playing is good enough that it sounds tight. Aukin makes good use of pre-recorded material so that he gives the cast the appearance of being together all the time.

“Stereophonic” will have a good run. It’s officially a play with music, not a musical, for Tony Awards consideration. It’s playing at the St. James, previously home to a real rock band — Green Day — and their musical, “American Idiot.” But don’t expect to see Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood, or John McVie on the aisle. They know this story by heart.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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