Indy’s Rising Star

Meridian-Kessler’s own Chris Stack makes his Broadway debut this month as a ’70s rock band drummer.
Photo courtesy Miguel Herrera

INDIANAPOLIS arts philanthropist Ann Stack had just seen her son’s off-Broadway hit Stereophonic—for the fourth time. She was, understandably, his biggest fan, ever since he first took to the stage as a teen in productions of The Crucible and Carousel at Park Tudor. Now, as she stood with him on a Times Square subway platform, she lamented that his show had closed out its limited run.

“Well,” her son, Chris Stack, replied, “you could see it a fifth time … if you don’t mind going to Broadway.”

Tears ensued.

Hometown hero Stack played Dr. Michael McBain for years on One Life to Live and Ian in the series Interview With a Vampire. A familiar face at the 500 each May, he hosted a “friends and family” screening of Midday Black, Midnight Blue, an Apple+ film he stars in, at the Kan-Kan in January. Now he takes on the Great White Way, with Stereophonic previews starting April 3 and the show officially opening on April 19. The production concerns an up-and-coming band tumultuously cutting its second album in 1976. The play, penned by David Adjmi, is as much about the music scene of the day as it is about the shifting relationships of passionate and flawed individuals trying to create a singular sound. Although not exactly a musical, it contains period-true original music by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler. Stack plays Simon, the band’s drummer who is attempting to control his temper while holding his work “family”—and his faraway biological family—together.

Photo courtesy Chelcie Parry

In its off-Broadway run, Stereophonic not only attracted sold-out crowds but also rockers of that era, including James Taylor and Talking Heads’ David Byrne. “Byrne gave us the best compliment,” recalls Stack. “He came up to me and said, ‘You guys are so believably a band from the ’70s.’”

Byrne wasn’t alone. It was lauded by The New York Times as one of the best plays of the year; The Washington Post called it the best. It’s a likely contender for this year’s Tony Awards, although the challenge is figuring out who in the tight ensemble cast of seven qualify as the leads. “It’s such a tricky thing to categorize. Everyone seems like leads to me,” observes Stack.

Stack, who graduated from the renowned Actors Studio in Manhattan, decided to audition for a workshop of the play in 2019, even though he knew that musicianship would be integral to landing the part. “I would never have considered myself a drummer,” he says, “just a guy who knew how to play the drums.” A conflict with a film job interfered, but “somewhere in the back of my mind I was hoping the play would come back around. I resolved not to get caught flat-footed if it did,” he shares. So when the pandemic hit, Stack used his newfound free time to work on his drumming technique. And when he heard auditions were being held for the show’s off-Broadway run, he booked himself a studio and spent as much time practicing the drums as he did learning the lines. It worked.

“To say that any of us began this show and process as musicians would be stretching it,” Stack admits, “but by the time we were five or six weeks into rehearsals, we felt like musicians. Everybody realized that if we rose to the level of the play, it could be something super special. But at first, nothing was written in stone that we would even be able to do it. This was a huge leap of faith on people’s parts.”

Photo courtesy Chelcie Parry

Perhaps most compelling about Stereophonic is how it presents the frustration of the song development process. Nowhere is that more intense than in a lengthy scene in which Simon can’t find the tempo being demanded of him. While playing well on stage is hard, sometimes playing only passably is harder. “When you see someone in a play purposely mess up, it’s very rare that it’s not obvious. Here, I had to get it wrong without telling that I’m getting it wrong. The audience may not hear it, so I have to send the message in tiny details.”

Moving the show to Broadway won’t involve any fundamental changes, says Stack. “It’s more a progression from one run to another, just in a bigger space with a bigger stage and bigger audiences.”

Plus, we’re getting a recording … of sorts. During the hiatus between the off-Broadway closing and Broadway rehearsals beginning, the cast left the fictional studio for an actual one. “The album has the same energy and vibration you get in the show, but it’s not like you’re walking into the theater and recording,” shares Stack. “It’s kick-ass tunes, fully realized and produced. It will be a Broadway cast recording unlike anything you’ve heard.”

Audiences—including Stack’s mom—have until July 7 to catch Stereophonic at Broadway’s Golden Theatre, although an extension or a U.S. tour is possible. The Tony Award nominees will be announced on April 30. Ann Stack is holding her breath.