Arpeggio is not a musical, it is a “play with music,” and yes, there is a difference. In a musical the characters break into song, in Arpeggio they break into rock ballads created by Alec Bridges. The play aspects demand that the audiences stay quietly in their seats, applauding respectfully when appropriate. The musical aspects urge the audience to stand, scream and whistle, especially towards the end when the onstage band turns the show into a rock concert. Still, referring to David Stalling’s Arpeggio as a play with music would only be acknowledging what it is on the surface, and if there is anything this story teaches you, it is that one must look below the surface. At its heart, Arpeggio is a tight, well-plotted psychological thriller in the same vein as nail-biting films, Fatal Attraction and Single White Female.
The play begins in a tiny New York City apartment decorated with only a couch, table, and bookcase, as the current owner, Zeb (Andy Travis) does not believe in TV’s, stereos or any other appliances that create noise. His little monastery is shattered when his new room mate Gerry (Allison Ikin) moves in with boxes of CD’s featuring her favorite male vocalist Tobin Grey (Jonathan Albert). Gerry owns dozens of life-sized Tobin Grey posters and an extensive collection of audio disks she recorded at each of his many concerts. But her obsession is more than just a crush; Gerry claims to be Tobin Grey’s secret girlfriend, explaining that he asked her to move to New York to be closer to him.
Ikin is perfectly cast as the ideal roommate. She has a shy, disarming smile, a cute bobbing ponytail, and an easy-going, laid back manner. Even as her darker side is slowly revealed, Ikin manages to preserve Gerry’s innocent, girlish charm, making her nearly impossible to distrust.
Gerry’s celebrity heartthrob, Tobin Grey, is more than just a poster in this plot. He shows up in person, not as a narcissistic celebrity, but as a regular guy who just likes making music. This rocker has a gentler side, which he demonstrates in a speech about the misconceptions his female fan base have of him. He sounds more sad than pleased to admit that he breaks a lot of hearts when young girls mistakenly believe he is looking at them when he performs his romantic ballads live.
We learn that Tobin Grey’s greatest talent is his ability to execute arpeggio notes on his guitar. Arpeggio, Gerry explains to us, is a musical term that refers to single notes being played in quick succession rather than all at once in a chord. When you play the notes separately you can hear the special sound that each one makes. Play them in a chord and the notes lose their unique, individual quality.
This explains why we do not see Gerry’s true nature until her world has crumbled around her. She uses Zeb’s hectic circle of friends and lovers to disguise her real self, but as this group dissolves so does her protection. When Gerry finally goes solo she is surrounded by a band, under a spotlight, and in front of a microphone where she delivers a somber, beautiful rock ballad just as powerful as the one she idolizes Tobin Grey for singing.
Apreggio may not be strictly about the music, but Stallings uses it in all the right ways to enhance the plot. The songs do not puncture the story but rather weave naturally into the fabric of its central themes and characters. Integrating a rock soundtrack into a psychological thriller is an ambitious combination, but it works -- except for the fact that you won’t know whether to leave the theatre discussing the story or jumping out of your seat to dance to its final notes.