The musicals he did praise are backstage classics — “A Chorus Line,” “Dreamgirls,” “42nd Street” — and, perhaps not coincidentally, “Stereophonic” is a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creation. Its unnamed band includes two couples. The steady, no-nonsense keyboard player and singer, Holly (Juliana Canfield, who played Kendall Roy’s assistant Jess on “Succession”), and the substance-abusing bassist, Reg (Will Brill), both British expats, are separated at the start of the show. The singer Diana (Sarah Pidgeon) and the guitarist-producer, Peter (Tom Pecinka), both Americans, are partners and rivals in love and songwriting. As for the British drummer, Simon (Chris Stack), he makes the most of his wife’s absence.
All of this and a mid-70s California setting might evoke the rather popular band famous for “Rhiannon” and “Go Your Own Way,” but “Stereophonic” is not a play à clef about Fleetwood Mac. “There’s something about the mythos behind various bands that is in the culture,” Aukin said. “It’s almost using snippets from various bands’ histories and the histories of making some of these famous albums and using it as a sort of distant echo. We talked about many bands but we never talked about one.”
In a phone interview, Canfield, 31, recalled that when she asked Adjmi for reference material, he recommended Keith Richards’s memoir, “Life,” and “Original Cast Album: Company,” the D.A. Pennebaker documentary about the fraught, stressful recording that preserved Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 musical for posterity.
That film closely tracked the “Company” actors as they painstakingly performed take after take or made tiny pronunciation changes, while members of the producing team and Sondheim himself watched, gave notes and rolled their eyes. “Stereophonic” also plunges us into the middle of the action as David Zinn’s set features the mixing table in the foreground and the recording booth in the back. A pair of engineers (Eli Gelb and Andrew R. Butler, no relation to Will) take in both the personal clashes and the mix of inspiration and drudgery involved in art-making — all of which, of course, constantly feed off one another.
In real life, arguments about adjusting levels or when to use a click track might make even a Steely Dan fan’s eyes glaze over. But the show does not sweep the grind of creation under the rug, especially as Peter evolves into an obsessive taskmaster. “God is in the details, but the details are boring in themselves,” Adjmi said. “So I took that as a challenge, like, ‘OK, let me see if I can turn this into something dramatically exciting.’ So much of it, the banality of the process, is part of what’s so beautiful about it, the granularity of it.”