By Mark A. Robinson
If anyone is wondering where one can find Utopia in America, try checking on Broadway this fall. David Byrne’s critically acclaimed American Utopia, which just completed a sold-out international tour, will come to Broadway in October of 2019, a strictly limited engagement that will play the Hudson Theatre. Prior to its Broadway berth, David Byrne’s American Utopia will play 18 performances at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre from September 11 through September 28, 2019.
The Broadway engagement of David Byrne’s American Utopia will begin previews on October 4, 2019, toward an official opening on October 20, 2019. The show will conclude its run on January 19, 2020.
Starting out as an album that David Byrne released on Nonesuch Records in March of 2018, American Utopia was his first to reach #1 on the Album Chart and was also his first to reach the Top Five on the Billboard 200 chart. The theatrical concert, which includes songs from American Utopia along with songs from Talking Heads and his solo career, played more than 150 dates in 27 countries over nine months in 2018.
David Byrne said the following about the creation of the Broadway production:
“As I was recording the songs for my American Utopia album it occurred to me that they would be exciting to play live- and I realized that a lot of my older material would fit right in….I imagined a live show….I pictured a lot of drummers, a kind of drum line/samba school/second line- that would create the rhythms.
“A few years earlier I had toured with the musical artist St Vincent, and we had a large horn section that we decided should be completely mobile. Could I liberate the other instruments in the band as well for the new show? It turns out I could – drummer Mauro Refosco, whom I’ve worked with for years, said we’d need 6 drummers to reproduce the necessary grooves. There is now a technology that allows a keyboard to be mobile, so Karl Mansfield (musical director) tested it out.
“Annie-B Parson, whom I’d worked with a number of times in the past, came on board and we began to collaborate on discovering movement that seemed appropriate for the songs. Sometimes she gave us complex movement to try and sometimes, a little surprisingly, we’d discover, or at least I did, that the simplest idea could have a huge emotional impact.
“Because of how theatrical the show is, others started telling me ‘this needs to go to Broadway.’ Why not? But what did that mean? Parked in a beautiful Broadway theater we can perfect the sound, the lights, the movement. I thought to myself that this new context might be good- it might bring out the narrative arc a little bit more, to make it just a little more explicit. I asked Alex Timbers, whom I’d worked with twice before on musicals, to help. He brought some original and insightful ideas to the room, ideas I was too close to imagine, and we used those to build on what we had.
“People ask me will I be darting into a town car after these shows or taking a flying leap onto my bicycle…take a wild guess.”
David Byrne’s American Utopia features David Byrne with Jacquelene Acevedo, Gustavo Di Dalva, Daniel Freedman, Chris Giarmo, Tim Keiper, Tendayi Kuumba, Karl Mansfield, Mauro Refosco, Stephane San Juan, Angie Swan, and Bobby Wooten III.
The design team includes Rob Sinclair (lighting) and Pete Keppler (sound). Karl Mansfield is Musical Director. Alex Timbers is production consultant with choreography and musical staging by Annie-B Parson.