Rock Legend David Byrne Brings His AMERICAN UTOPIA To Broadway!
Though Byrne is revered in the rock realm, many Broadway fans have yet to become acquainted with this cultural icon and the mysterious work of music and movement currently making its Main Stem debut at Broadway's Hudson Theatre.
Best known as the front man of the band Talking Heads, David Byrne is a multi-faceted artist who has worked within the mediums of music, theatre, film, photography, opera, fiction, and non-fiction. He is a recipient of Academy, Grammy, and Golden Globe Awards, as well as an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Though Byrne is making his Broadway debut with the show, this isn't the rock legend's first trip to the theatrical stage. In 2005, Byrne collaborated with fellow recording artist, Fatboy Slim on the concept album, Here Lies Love, a disco opera about the life of controversial Philippine First Lady, Imelda Marcos, which made its New York debut at The Public Theater, directed by Alex Timbers and starring Tony Award-winner, Ruthie Anne Miles.
Now, Byrne is back in the theatre and is bringing a slew of talent from all over the world with him.
Released in 2018, American Utopia began its life as a rock album and is surprisingly Byrne's first recording to reach #1 on the Album Chart and his first to reach the Top Five on the Billboard 200 chart.
Throughout 2018, concert version of American Utopia played 150 dates in 27 countries over nine months. Following its run in Australia, the show was named "Best International Contemporary Concert" at the 2019 Helpmann Awards.
Featuring Byrne along with eleven international music artists including Jacquelene Acevedo, Gustavo Di Dalva, Daniel Freedman, Chris Giarmo, Tim Keiper, Tendayi Kuumba, Karl Mansfield, Mauro Refosco, Stéphane San Juan, Angie Swan and Bobby Wooten III, the show includes songs from the album as well as popular hits from his days with Talking Heads and his successful solo career.
Though the initial version of the show enjoyed much acclaim, Byrne has made some choices that will differentiate the Broadway version of American Utopia from its concert counterpart. This involves playing up a narrative quality to the concert, a quality that production consultant, Alex Timbers, saw in the show from the start.
Of Timbers, Byrne says, "Some friends of mine told me they perceived a narrative arc within the concert. I agreed, and I thought, "Let's bring that out a little bit more. We'll change out some of the numbers, and [we'll] introduce all the concepts and what's going on, and I'll talk a little bit more...[Alex] would see how that arc was working and how one part of what we're doing would relate to something further on in the show, like how the beginning relates to the end, and all those kinds of things."
He tells Ultimate Classic Rock, "I see it as the journey of a character who is me but not me, because it's not necessarily biographical. He starts off within himself wondering how to be in the world, what's the right thing to do, how you relate to other people. It's all kind of a mystery to the character. Then this person finds himself within this little community -- in this case the band -- and that allows him to come out of his interior a bit. Then by the end, this person and the band are engaged in the wider world, getting involved beyond their own bubble."
Another aspect of the show that skews more Broadway than concert is Byrne's decision to create a totally unplugged experience. Presented entirely free of cords and wires, microphone stands, amplifiers, and other concert accouterments are banished from the playing area, allowing David and the band to move freely about the space.
Of the policy, Byrne says, "I knew that I could get everybody moving, I would have something different. I would have a stage completely cleared, no wires and water bottles, no mic stands or wedges or anything else. It's all about us and how we move and how we relate to one another. Then I realized that's what people are interested in, seeing other people and seeing how they relate to one another. That's what's interesting to us as a human species. We're generally not interested in platforms and various bits of gear. And then there was this huge knock-on effect. It was incredibly liberating for us. It allows democratization."
He continues, "You can't normally have a drummer in a band come forward to the front of the stage so you can see what this person does. In this case, we could do that because there are six drummers and they can move to the front and I can move to the back. It's not like they're taking a solo but they're up front so people can see what they do. Everybody in the whole group gets some moments where they are the focus of attention."
As to what Byrne and Broadway fans can expect from the current incarnation at the Hudson Theatre, he tells Entertainment Weekly, "If [fans] haven't seen the show before, it's completely different than anything I've ever done before, but it still has a lot of songs they'll be very familiar with. So I think they'll be happily surprised and not feel like they've been assaulted by something completely unfamiliar. Broadway fans, my dream is that we get an audience at some point that is really pretty much unfamiliar with me and my material and Talking Heads, and doesn't know these songs very much. That would be really exciting. If there's word of mouth that this is just a good show, that's moving and exciting and innovative, if that's what they hear, then to me that's a dream come true."
Get to know more about David's legendary tunes, American Utopia, and Here Lies Love below, and check out reviews for the show's Broadway debut here!