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A New York Theatre Guide to... David Byrne's American Utopia!
Here's all you need to know about David Byrne's American Utopia; the new show that blurs the lines between live music and live theatre...
Burning Down the Hudson 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, entitled David Byrne’s American Utopia, celebrates the former Talking Heads star’s seventh solo album and has been rocking the Hudson Theatre since October 4. After opening to glowing reviews on October 20, his loyal fan base will be pleased to know that this limited engagement has extended through February 16, 2020.
What’s it all about?
“American Utopia” 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 isolated and alone on the stage holding the model of a human brain. Through song and spoked 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 eleven 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 enlisted 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 movement and fluidity. The result is a mesmerizing piece of performance art that has long been common place Off-Off-Broadway, now awarded a mainstream showcase which broadens the horizons for Broadway theatre as we know it.
Who’s starring in it?
David Byrne shot to fame in the mid- to late 70s 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’s special about this production?
Having witnessed the level of fandom for David Byrne first-hand now, this theatrical concert experience is undoubtedly a form of utopia for those who so closely identified with his work during the 1970s and 80s. 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. But this is no ordinary gig. This is art with a message. And 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.
A special mention also goes to lighting designer Rob Sinclair, who is the unsung hero of the piece in my opinion, creating perhaps the most dramatic element of American Utopia. From blinding to atmospheric, the variety of lighting effects (and the moods they create) is astounding.
Kudos to David Byrne for continually insisting on pushing the envelope when it comes to the possibilities of performance, using his status to shine a light on an art form that is so often considered niche or is frequently overlooked.
Who would we recommend it to?
Obviously the level of euphoria I witnessed at American Utopia can only be matched by those die-hard fans who have seemingly spent most of their adult lives under his influence. But I would also encourage fans of interpretive dance and performance art not to shy away from experiencing the genre in such a mainstream environment as a Broadway theatre. Take Byrne’s advice... and connect.
Take a look at our VIDEO guide to David Byrne's American Utopia here...
David Byrne's American Utopia Tickets are available now for performances through February 16, 2020.
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)