The Gold Standard Phantom in the Broadway Hudson Theater room, where David Byrne opens American Utopia tonight (through January 19), is Bruce Springsteen. It was the Boss show in 2017 that provides the musicians and rock stars who come to Broadway the best conditions to play more intimate settings than in their usual big concert halls.
On the side of these musicians automatically: their fans buy the tickets. For music stars who come to Broadway, there is an own audience, and it's a devotional.
It all comes down to effort and ingenuity – hence the Springsteen gold standard. Springsteen not only sang songs that his fans wanted to hear, he also produced a piece of compelling theater. David Byrne achieves the same, if different.
American Utopia is the Broadway stage version of the concerts that Byrne toured last year, following the eponymous album of March 201
Byrne, his nine fantastic musicians and two vocal artists and wonderful dancers (Tendayi Kuumba and Chris Giarmo) are all dressed in gray suits and barefoot. The stage is framed from floor to ceiling with white beaded curtains, and the songs of the concert include the songs of the album American Utopia as well as well-known Talking Heads songs.
Byrne, a witty and generous presenter and Guidein, begins and ends the 21-number show – with a flowing, flair-filled choreography and musical staging by Annie-B Parson – and talks about the brain. In fact, when we see him for the first time, he holds one in his hand, pondering in his song "Here" what his potential is and how aging can reduce that potential. How can older brains be rewired for the good, "Byrne wonders. At another moment during the performance, he asks us to register to vote.
There are no anti-Trump diatribes here – his playlist "Beautiful Shitholes" from 2018 is more like Byrne's style – but the desire for social engagement and participation.
Byrne is one of the optimists who believe we can make a difference, and that no political system, no matter how oppressive and corrupt, can really suppress collective humanity and positive change as long as people can – another vision of American utopia.
The musicians are another consistent distillation of the show's title; The society on the stage is different in every respect, in terms of gender, ethnicity and age. They also come from all over the world, Byrne says, underscoring the importance of immigration for a country's lifeblood.
The musicians both play their instruments and dance in a kind of regimental mix, sometimes in unison with Byrne and sometimes in small lumps on the edge of the stage. Sometimes they are completely off stage, only their instruments look through the beads. The percussive joy that comes up on this stage, the joy of playing together and making the performance is palpable (or extremely well played). Before "Born Under Punches" Byrne introduces each musician by name, with a special mention of the birthday of a member.
The show is not as denominational as Springsteen's; Byrne's cerebral meandering and curiosity are more pronounced as an expression of personal fears. and so we hear of his joy in his first color television when he sings "I should watch TV," and from his split feelings of being sociable and generally having to be with people before he sings "Everyone comes to my house." There's Something Penetrating Move over "One Fine Day" and its shots and battle cries and tears – and mention a man of clay who can still change.
The show, with its subdued costumes and backdrops and choreography, feels like a new wave. You will hear old favorites like "Crazy", "Once in a Lifetime" and – with the warning that the dancing in the corridors is forbidden by the fire department – will set the crowd for "Burning Down The House" like some People leave the theater too fast or you will miss a wonderful encore: "Road To Nowhere".
Listen to the anger and passion, the volume here – it's the most targeted challenge to the audience and the title of the show; A utopia is not realized by magic, but by fiercely fought for equality and rights. "
The strange thing is that the chorus of this song is the opposite of the show, which is about finding a way and a purpose. The most compelling element of the band is the accused recitation of Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout" with the names of victims of police violence such as Trayvon Martin, Atatiana Jefferson, Eric Garner and Botham Jean.
Byrne says he asked for permission from Monáe because he did not want his use of the number to be considered inappropriate in any way. But listen to the anger and passion, the volume here – it's the biggest challenge for the audience and the title of the show. A utopia is not realized by magic, but by fiercely fought for equality and rights.
The show is a call for coming together and a call for change. Byrne is seen as a calm, dry and cerebral man, but the political era we are in has made him loud, even as an activist. Do not be fooled by the gray suit and the beautiful theater curtain. This excellent show is not a horror for an "American utopia," but a charged, focused challenge to create and nurture. Cynicism and defeat have not claimed Byrne yet.
As this show makes clear, Byrne believes in his vision. He knows how hard the fight will be to reach it. He still thinks we can do it, and he still believes in his beauty.