Everything you need to know about 'David Byrne's American Utopia' on Broadway
Here's all you need to know about David Byrne's American Utopia, the Tony Award-winning show that blurs the lines between live music and live theatre.
Having extensively toured his latest production in 27 countries in 2018, New Wave icon David Byrne has successfully made Broadway his new home. His theatrical concert, titled David Byrne’s American Utopia, celebrated the former Talking Heads star’s seventh solo album and rocked the Hudson Theatre since October 4. After winning a special 2020 Tony Award, David Byrne’s American Utopia returned to Broadway for the 2021-2022 season.
What’s the story of David Byrne's American Utopia?
American Utopia, Byrne's solo album that lent its name to the stage show, was released on March 9, 2018, hitting the #3 spot on the US Billboard Charts. The album includes the single “Everybody’s Coming to My House” and, in essence, that feels like a rather fitting motto for this special Broadway engagement. A mixture of live music and performance art, American Utopia feels like a living, breathing organism. Byrne starts the show alone on the stage holding the model of a human brain.
Through song and spoken word, he describes how each part of the brain connects and communicates with its other parts and its surroundings and that this connectivity is at its peak during infancy and regrettably diminishes with age. Gradually, the 11 other members — singers and musicians — of the cast enter the stage through the metallic chain curtains that surround it. All dressed in the same silvery grey suits as Byrne and barefoot too, there is a common unity in their humanity, and yet each member is also uniquely different. The cast is diverse in terms of race, gender, and sexuality and, over the course of 1 hour and 45 minutes, Byrne offers a utopic picture of how we can connect to each other as humans.
The show has Tony-nominated director Alex Timbers as its production consultant, nurturing its theatrical elements, as well as choreographer Annie-B Parson, who keeps the entire cast in constant, fluid motion. The result is a mesmerizing piece of performance art that has long been commonplace Off-Off-Broadway, now awarded a mainstream showcase which broadens the horizons for Broadway theatre as we know it.
What theatre is David Byrne's American Utopia playing at?
David Byrne's American Utopia is at the St. James Theatre on Broadway.
What is the running time of David Byrne's American Utopia?
American Utopia runs 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Who was in the original cast of David Byrne's American Utopia on Broadway?
David Byrne leads the show with an ensemble of 11 dancers, backup vocalists, and musicians, though none are from the band that made him famous. Byrne shot to fame in the 1970s as the frontman of Talking Heads, becoming a trailblazer of the New Wave era. The band would release eight studio albums during its time together, which included such hit songs as “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and “Burning Down the House,” among many others.
After the group disbanded in 1991, Byrne went on to enjoy a tremendous solo career and he was finally inducted (with Talking Heads) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Broadway fans will also appreciate his ventures into the world of theatre, most notably with his score for the smash hit immersive production of Here Lies Love, which staged acclaimed runs at New York’s Public Theater, London’s National Theatre, and in Seattle.
What songs are in David Byrne's American Utopia on Broadway?
American Utopia includes a total of 21 songs from his American Utopia album and his past albums with the Talking Heads. He also sings a cover of "Hell You Talmbout" by Janelle Monáe.
- "I Know Sometimes a Man Is Wrong"
- "Don't Worry About the Government"
- "This Must Be the Place
- "I Zimbra"
- "Slippery People"
- "I Should Watch TV"
- "Everybody's Coming to My House"
- "Once in a Lifetime"
- "Glass, Concrete & Stone"
- "Toe Jam"
- "Born Under Punches
- "I Dance Like This"
- "Every Day Is a Miracle"
- "Burning Down the House"
- "Hell You Talmbout"
- "One Fine Day"
- "Road to Nowhere"
What did the reviews of David Byrne's American Utopia say?
In a four-star 2019 review of David Byrne's American Utopia for New York Theatre Guide, "the big pleasure of David Byrne's American Utopia is to find him front and centre himself, joined by an ensemble of eleven other musicians and singer/dancers, for a stunning concert that puts theatricality at its core."
The encore run earned that fifth star from New York Theatre Guide, with a new review reading, "The soundscape is gorgeous, lyrics landing with bell-like clarity — even “I Zimbra”’s “bim blassa galassasa zimbrabim,” drawn from a nonsense poem. Of course, you expect a concert staging to be an earful. This one is, and then some. You can feel the insistent throbbing drumbeats in a way that only emanates from a live performance."
Why should I see David Byrne's American Utopia on Broadway?
This theatrical concert experience is undoubtedly a form of utopia for a generation that identified with his work. Although it bears the name of his latest solo album, American Utopia also delivers his greatest hits of yesteryear with renditions of “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House,” bringing audience members to their feet, and culminating with a stirring version of “Road to Nowhere” for the encore.
This is no ordinary gig. This is art with a message. Byrne often breaks the fourth wall and delivers messages directly to his audience, whether it is the need to register to vote (which you can also subsequently fulfil in the lobby area after the show) or the need to stand as one against the tyranny of white supremacy. His cover of Janelle Monáe’s protest song “Hell You Talmbout” (with her blessing) offers one of the most impactful moments of the night.
From blinding to atmospheric, the variety of lighting effects (and the moods they create) is astounding. David Byrne uses his status to shine a light on an art form that is so often considered niche or is frequently overlooked.
Who would we recommend David Byrne's American Utopia to?
Fans of interpretive dance and performance art not to shy away from experiencing the genre in such a mainstream environment as a Broadway theatre. Also, if you're a David Byrne or Talking Heads fan, you'll definitely want to see American Utopia live.
Take a look at our video guide to David Byrne's American Utopia here.
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)