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«Stereophonic» and «Cabaret» Turn up the volume on Broadway

When «Stereophonic,» David Adjmi’s magnum opus about a 1970s rock band recording an album, debuted at Playwrights Horizons last year, the Off Broadway venue gave up part of its lobby to a vintage clothing store. The theater knew that spending more than three hours with the Adjmi characters, each gorgeously dressed in flowing Enver Chakartash bell-bottoms and deep-cut kimonos, would turn the audience into fans. It wouldn’t matter that those same characters were jaded, vain or sloppy with each other – the often dreamy, sometimes electrifying floral rock songs written by Will Butler (formerly of Arcade Fire) would make us imagine our own green selves. up there and I want velvet pants to do it.

Now that «Stereophonic» has moved to the Golden Theater on Broadway, you’ll have to get your own flares. But the show retains its immersive effect thanks to Adjmi’s fly-on-the-wall hyperrealism, directed by the invisible hand of Daniel Aukin. The game takes place in a California recording studio in 1976 and 1977: David Zinn’s set consists of a cedar-hued control room, a warm domain of soft floor cushions and various bean bags, where young engineer Grover (Eli Gelb) controls a huge mixing desk. and a twenty-four-track tape machine. On stage is a soundproof recording booth, lit by Jiyoun Chang to look as cool as an aquarium. The part-British, part-American band, never mentioned in Adjmi’s text, are essentially Fleetwood Mac, and the album we’ve been watching them create over the course of an increasingly harrowing year seems awfully similar to that band’s masterpiece ‘Rumours. The British musicians are drummer Simon (Chris Stack); bass player, Reg (Will Brill); and his keyboardist wife Holly (Juliana Canfield). On their way to superstardom, they are joined by two Americans: Stevie Nicks, lead singer Diana (Sarah Pidgeon) and her dominant partner, guitarist and perfectionist producer Peter (Tom Pecinka) Lindsey Buckingham.

However, Adjmi can do as he pleases with the biographical details, focusing on the extraordinary intensity created by creative collaboration, desire and tons of cocaine. It shows us Reg and Holly’s serial breakup, as well as Peter and Diana’s toxic codependency. The term «stereophonic» refers to the interlacing of multiple transmission channels, which the game literally does: as Grover adjusts the faders on the console, we occasionally eavesdrop on private conversations in the cabin. We hear rustles, the click of tape reels, a room tone, and then, BOOM BOOM BOOM, a bass drum pounding behind our ribs. Relationship disasters strike and recede, but the record goes on. (Time may heal all wounds, but music will.) Above all, the quintet seems devastatingly in love with itself; even Grover almost falls into the band’s erotic, generative turbulence. Only his assistant Charlie (Andrew R. Butler, who looks like a weed-dealing St. Jerome) keeps his distance, mostly because no one remembers his name. However, the audience should listen to him. “The room has a really nice breakdown,” Charlie says at one point, hearing subtle, perhaps metaphorical undertones that we can’t pick up on.

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Adjmi’s slow-moving quasi-documentary works in several ways: it feeds our nostalgia for a time that seems promisingly free from afar, as well as our hunger for virtuosity achieved through hard work. The actors, all superb, give live performances and are brilliantly orchestrated by Adjmi, whose script carefully records their overlapping dialogue. For example, Brill’s insecure Reg, who swings from booze to coke and back, sets the dramatic pace, and Diana’s excellence pulls at the fabric of the group’s cohesion: Pidgeon’s voice, softest when it’s roughest, sets her character apart from one that could actually make a solo career. As a leitmotif, we hear parts of the song Diana wrote – “I’m in a bright light / Forgetting my name / The shadow of our lives / Familiar but strange” – from her initial, hesitant demo to the richly layered final version, assembled by an exhausted Grover. Adjmi questions whether it’s worth destroying a few hearts to make a great song; he finally answers his own question.

Sound designer Ryan Rumery has a near-impossible task, which he accomplishes ambitiously and artfully, but he strives for pin-point accuracy in a Broadway house that at times resists. How music stays alive after it’s been electronically arranged on tape is one of the game’s main mysteries, but there are places in Golden where the sound goes a little sour. Playwrights Horizons’ compact, wood-walled auditorium functioned as a well-balanced listening room, while the sprawling new venue is a seat-by-seat gamble. That’s Broadway for you: everyone pays a toll to get there.

Carrying a significantly longer distance – say from London’s West End – also has its risks. Riding a wave of critical acclaim (and seven Olivier Awards), comes to town «Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club,» starring Eddie Redmayne as the titular boîte’s master of ceremonies. Instead of a vintage clothing store, the production installed themed bars on each floor of the August Wilson Theater and transformed its proscenium stage into a luxurious, round burlesque venue. Although the performers get as close to the audience as they can, including the occasional lap, the action itself often seems distant, perhaps on the other side of the divide between American and British dramatic sensibilities.

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There are resonances between «Cabaret», originally produced in 1966, and «Stereophonic». John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff’s version from the early 1930s rings strangely with the 1970s. In each show, we are immersed in the louche, a bygone decade in which drug-fueled, antic musicians make art as if the world is ending. (Two o’clock in the morning is eternal in the studio and in the club.)

Kander and Ebb’s musical about the masks of fascism relies on a slow build from apparent liberation to revelation: an American named Cliff (Ato Blankson-Wood) makes his way through Weimar Berlin, intoxicated by the permissive nightlife and oblivious to the growing political horrors. all around him. It was last on Broadway in 2015 that Alan Cumming played the malevolent MC – a certain Puckish reserve essential to the role. The director of this revival, Rebecca Frecknall, approaches the material as if exploring the hidden meanings in the Jacobean text for people who have never heard «you» before. Hers is the subtext-as-atmosphere version of the author’s directorial treatment, offering the darkest, most expressive interpretation possible at every moment. From the very beginning, he has the cabaret dancers slither like demons in some medieval vision of Hell, which paradoxically makes the show boring –Oh look, it’s the half-naked tubercular goblins again– and a bit prudish. By shifting the early parts of the musical towards menace, Frecknall stated that sexual promiscuity coincides with evil. It’s certainly not her intention.

All is not ill: Gayle Rankin, whose voice is a great angry wonder, plays Sally Bowles, a cabaret star in heels, and she screams and sings with such utter conviction that she almost sells the show as her own personality. nightmare. But Frecknall chose Redmayne as the focal point of his production, and since his 2010 performance in «Red» on Broadway, it’s been clear that he’s at his most effective when his impulses are in check. When it’s not, he can get into the absurd as he does here – inventing a German accent so pernicious («Tomowwoar belongs to me,» he sings) you don’t always understand it, and an overly ornate physical vocabulary that’s part of the silent film Pierrot and from the part of Igor in «Young Frankenstein.» I never felt so far removed from the rest of the audience as when I knew that this incarnation was beloved in London. they’ll enjoy a wider performance than I. Or, like the «breakdown» in the «Stereophonic» studio, maybe there are some qualities I just can’t hear

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