Whether he’s fusing music genres from around the world or guitar soloing on stage in a tutu, David Byrne has been pushing the envelope in the music industry for decades. This trend continues with his latest theatrical concert experience, American Utopia, which officially opened at the Hudson Theatre October 20.
Byrne sings through his diverse music catalog, joined by back-up vocalists and a nine-piece band playing everything from electric guitar to bongos. The entire company dances in formations throughout the show, regardless of the size of their instruments.
The 16-week Broadway engagement is a stop on the show’s international tour. After playing massive concert venues, Byrne was excited for the more intimate setting of the Hudson.
“We chose songs that would help tell a story,” Byrne said at opening. “We were playing in bigger venues where the audience basically wants to have a party, but coming into a Broadway theatre, you can slow down in parts of it—add more content and put more ideas out there.”
For American Utopia vocalist Chris Giarmo, playing in a Broadway theatre allows for the performers to connect with audiences in new ways. “I feel like a lot of audience members are expecting a fourth wall situation, but we are breaking that real quick,” Giarmo said. “You feed us as much as we give back to you. That kind of performer/audience duet is super strong here.”
The show is more than just a set list. Byrne speaks to the audience in between songs about the importance of political involvement. American Utopia partnered with the nonpartisan organization HeadCount to offer voter registration to audiences in the venue every night.
“Art is political,” the show’s guitarist, Angie Swan, said. “You have these audiences coming in and hopefully they're leaving with more knowledge than when they came in.”
The production features staging and choreography by Annie-B Parson, music direction by Karl Mansfield and Mauro Refosco, lighting design by Rob Sinclair, and sound design by Pete Keppler. Alex Timbers serves a production consultant, after collaborating with Byrne and Parson on the Off-Broadway production of Here Lies Love.