David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ Is Coming To Broadway Later This Year

Photo: Catalina Kulczar

By Ben Yakas

After a year-long international tour, David Byrne announced today that he will be bringing his American Utopia project/show to Broadway. "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," Byrne said in a statement.

David Byrne's American Utopia will land at the relatively intimate (1,050-seat) Hudson Theatre from October 4th, 2019 through January 19th, 2020, with opening night scheduled for October 20th. Byrne is working with theater director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and the choreographer Annie-B Parson (Big Dance Theater) to adapt the concert show for the theater.

Byrne has previously written two musicals: Here Lies Love, about Imelda Marcos, and Joan of Arc: Into the Fire. One influence on bringing American Utopia was seeing Bruce Springsteen's Broadway show last year; he told the Times he was impressed by "the way he disarmed any audience expectations that this was going to be a concert — in the first five minutes, they got what this was going to be."

In an open letter on the production's website, Byrne had this to say 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.

Eventually I realized we were doing something no one had ever done before, or if they had, I didn’t know about it. When we began to put the show in front of audiences, I realized there was a kind of narrative there. Friends, and even strangers, began to point it out, and we all sensed it, as well. As a friend from London said, “The American Utopia of the title is there on stage.” I also realized that this narrative was not something told, it was something experienced.

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.

"The staging is really innovative," said Gothamist's John Del Signore, who saw the concert version of the production last year and said it was his favorite concert of 2019, but apparently couldn't be bothered to write this post. "It's minimalist yet wholly theatrical. They do a LOT with very little, and they weave in key Talking Heads classics with the new material, and it's all fresh."

You can get information about tickets here.

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