In ‘Stereophonic,’ Sarah Pidgeon Builds a Leading Lady, Chord By Chord

There are days when the success of the most Tony-nominated play of all time and its leading lady comes down to a gossip session with her co-star, a facial steam, and a poorly microwaved serving of Kraft Mac and Cheese. When the curtains go up at New York’s John Golden Theatre, Sarah Pidgeon transforms into Stereophonic‘s singer-songwriter Diana, a fictional powerhouse who is an amalgamation of the greatest female rock stars of all time, most clearly Stevie Nicks. But she and co-star Juliana Canfield have a ritual to complete before that can happen. 

“Juliana and I share a dressing room, and it’s just like a download of what happened since I saw [her] 12 or 15 hours ago,” actress Pidgeon tells Rolling Stone via Zoom from her apartment in New York. “We debrief, and we’re really good at it. There’s nothing super unique about it. But I think checking in with Juliana and just having that time to be like, ‘Where are you at today?’ changes my show.” 

Diana is a towering, tambourine-wielding tour de force, who, outside of a Sausalito, California, recording studio somewhere in 1976, is skyrocketing to the top of the charts. But it’s inside the studio where Diana’s focus is fixed, both on the music she’s having trouble writing and the myriad problems her fellow bandmates Simon (Chris Stack), Reg (Will Brill), Holly (Juliana Canfield), and Peter (Tom Peckina) can’t seem to leave in the parking lot. Peter — the self-proclaimed band leader and Diana’s boyfriend — is desperate to keep control, while Reg is always face first in a bag of cocaine. Drummer Chris is too focused on the miles between him and his wife and kids to keep a steady beat, and Holly just wants a studio coffee machine that works. But at the play’s heart is Diana’s relationship with Peter: They’re desperate to make the arrangement work for an album, but Diana is unsure if she can make it work for her life. It’s this swirl of perfect melodies and clashing desires that Pidgeon is required to plant herself into night after night. But offstage, Pidgeon, 27, is a woman in the midst of her Broadway debut and her first Tony nomination — and also entirely unaware of whether she has any clean clothes left. 

“I’m so tired,” she jokes. “But today was like, I have to do the things. Immediately, eyes open, cleaning, trash, bills. Sometimes it feels like this total meditation that I can just go into the show and forget about everything else that’s happening in my life, and then sometimes it’s like, ’Oh, my God, there’s so much going on,’ and then before you know it, there’s nothing clean.” 

Sarah Pidgeon as Diana in ‘Stereophonic.’

Julieta Cervantes*

Stereophonic spent 10 weeks off-Broadway before transferring to what is now a 27-week Broadway run, and Pidgeon has only ever missed two performances. Unlike filmed productions, long theatrical runs have the added effect of splitting actors into two opposing personas. For six nights a week, Pidgeon is an onstage whirlwind, a woman struggling to choose between her relationship and her career, unclear of whether the two can exist in their best form without the other. While technically a play, Stereophonic’s core is its music, composed by former Arcade Fire member Will Butler and performed live by the actors each night. The play progresses through the band’s interpersonal drama while recording their most important album. Spats abound, but when they’re all on the same page, a perfect harmony of bluesy Seventies rock pours forth.

While the stage has always been a welcoming place for Pidgeon, she still seems a bit incredulous at how she ended up in her current situation. A Michigan native, Pidgeon grew up attending the Interlochen Arts Camp during the summer (she has fond memories of spending one season as a cherished Wildebeest #3 in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories) that started her on a path to Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama. As an actor, Pidgeon’s biggest performances have been in the Amazon Original survival drama The Wilds, and Tiny Beautiful Things, the HBO dramedy about an advice columnist whose life is falling to shit. Stereophonic was the last audition she completed before Covid shut down live performances, and Pidgeon can remember spending hours practicing with her roommate in an effort to “marry” her current self with playwright David Adjmi’s world. It was only after restrictions were lifted and the project resumed (with substantial edits) that she got a chance to audition again — something she’s abundantly grateful for.  

“I watched my audition tape and was so glad that I got to do it again because I was three years younger and hadn’t lived through a global pandemic yet,” Pidgeon says. “[Diana] talks so much about what she feels, but I think it’s because she doesn’t have the words for it all the time. This push-pull in her relationship [is] she loves this person so much, but they’re damaging her and not giving her what she needs. And that’s true of so many relationships we have in our lives. We’re two different people, and suddenly we’re stuck in the same room together. I think her journey is all about advocating for herself. I just sort of fell in love with it.”

Since last October, Pidgeon has been living, eating, and breathing the life of Diana — an intimate understanding that comes through in her performance. Pidgeon crashes through emotional walls, taking audiences through a relational whirlwind during the play’s three-hour runtime as she argues with Peter over songs and the roles they want to play in each other’s futures. Pidgeon isn’t Diana. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t nights when the performance sticks around a bit longer. 

“This woman is really at [the] crosshairs of a lot of decision-making and newness. And the one person who’s supposed to be in her corner undermines her in this unconscious way, which makes it even more difficult,” Pidgeon explains. “Sometimes it feels like Diana has my skin and my voice, but not my heart. And when I take a shower, it’s done. And then there are other nights where it’s like, ‘Oh my god, that felt a little too real. I need my mom.” 

Butler was present at Pidgeon’s first audition, but the Oscar-nominated composer says that even this far into the run, he’s always in awe of Pidgeon’s performances. “On the first preview, she was singing ‘Bright,’ and I was sitting at the back of the theater and I was just like, ‘I am extremely lucky,’” he tells Rolling Stone. “God-is-going-to-smite-me lucky. Sarah Pidgeon is up there singing my song making these 800 people here feel something transcendent.” 

Butler says Pidgeon’s skill comes from the combination of her humor and professional commitment to her work. “As an actor, she’s astonishing. She can imbue any syllable with any emotional valence,” he adds. “To have someone so responsive and so absurdly talented, it’s very rewarding.” 


It’s a belief that audiences and the American Theatre Wing seem to agree with. On April 30, Pidgeon was nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, along with 12 other nominations for Stereophonic. On June 5, Butler announced the show’s run would be extended until January 2025 — a five-month holiday guarantee that people are still filing in to see Pidgeon and her bandmates go at it night after night. But while Pidgeon might be a bit sleepy, she says her role has changed her on “a molecular level,” something she’s more focused on than the possibility that she might take home a golden statue on June 16’s Tony Awards. 

“Obviously getting recognized by the Tonys is just such a huge honor. I just feel very surprised, and I think it’s happened so fast that it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” she says. “But I think just getting to do the show and getting to know these people and feeling so impacted by this character, I already won.”