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Now Opening: 'American Utopia' Arrives on Broadway

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

David Byrne’s musical experience rocks the Hudson Theatre

It’s taken a long time for the rock star David Byrne (Talking Heads) to finally hit a Broadway stage in something that would adequately display his unique talents as songwriter, musician and performer. Now with American Utopia, his theatrical concert opening at the Hudson Theatre, audiences will get the chance to experience his special brand of charisma and craft in song and story.

David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ is a choreographed concert experience (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ is a choreographed concert experience (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

In March of 2018, in what was his first solo album in fourteen years, Byrne released American Utopia as a CD. Hardly lazy during those years while not recording his own work, he was busy recording with an eclectic mix of artists, including Fatboy Slim and Brian Eno. American Utopia, part of his long-term Reasons To Be Cheerful project, has recently conclude a year-long, 27-country tour. It is a combination of music and dance that includes songs from Byrne’s early solo work and from his heyday with Talking Heads, the group he co-founded in 1975 (which disbanded in 1991). Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, Talking Heads has four albums that made it onto Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Stop Making Sense, the band’s 1984 Jonathan Demme-directed concert film, is considered one of the all-time classics of its genre.

American Utopia features selections from some of the many hits Byrne’s Talking Heads have generated over the decades, led by the dazzling Byrne himself, along with an onstage ensemble that totals eleven. But what will make American Utopia different on Broadway from what Byrne has been previously touring with, is the addition of Alex Timbers to the production. Though its musical staging and choreography are still credited to Annie-B Parson, Timbers has come on board as a “Production Consultant” to bring his considerable directorial expertise. As far back as 2013, the two had worked with Byrne on the inspired Imelda Marcos musical Here Lies Love, which was an Off-Broadway hit in more than a few incarnations. Currently, Timbers is represented on Broadway by Moulin Rouge! and Beetlejuice, and was Tony-nominated for directing Peter and the Starcatcher and for authoring Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. His contribution is bound to shape American Utopia in a more dramatic fashion, yet not take away from its live concert feel.

As for Byrne’s online Reasons to Be Cheerful project – of which American Utopia is a part – it is described on his website as “a continuation and extension of some writing and talks I’ve done recently…as a kind of remedy and possibly as a kind of therapy…that reminded me ‘Hey, there’s actually some positive stuff going on!’” Going further, Byrne asks that we “Look for things that are happening anywhere, and if they have been tested, if they have proven to work, if they can be transferred and adopted in other places, if they can even scale up – then let’s hold them up for consideration, and let’s invite others to add to this project.”

There are no greater and more open audiences than those that attend Broadway shows. Just think of the money gathered annually with initiatives like Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS, which in 2018 alone raised $5.9 million from contributions gathered at the curtain calls of various plays and musicals. Byrne’s positivity, in addition to his prodigious songwriting and performing talent, should go a long way towards achieving his goal. And with American Utopia, he will be putting on a show that is more than likely to please his longtime fans and gain him new ones in the process during the production’s strictly limited engagement through Feb. 16, 2020.

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