“American Utopia” on Broadway


Ethan Skelly

David Byrne is many things. A rock star, a composer, a performance artist and now a bonafide Broadway star. He proved this with the Broadway show “American Utopia,” which opened on Sunday, Oct. 20. Readers will likely know Byrne from his work with the Talking Heads, releasing songs like “Psycho Killer” and “Burning Down The House,” to name a few.

Byrne on Broadway may seem out of place, but looking back on his past works, it seems like the only place for Byrne to be. He and his band, along with director Jonathan Demme, made the concert film “Stop Making Sense.” In 1981, Byrne was commissioned to write music for “The Catherine Wheel,” which played on Broadway for a month in the same year. He directed, co-wrote and starred in the cult movie musical/comedy “True Stories” in 1986. However, he has never been a performer on the Great White Way.

“American Utopia” is a political show, like many other plays and musicals on Broadway at the moment. Although the heavy plays of the time like “Slave Play” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” are extremely important and should be seen, “Utopia” has a certain joy to it. Byrne urges the audience to register to vote and in turn participate in their elections, but it never feels preachy.

Byrne has also undertaken a multifaceted project called “Reasons To Be Cheerful,” including a magazine that publishes stories of good things going on in the world as well as his 2018 album, also titled “American Utopia.”

The majority of new musicals today are based on existing properties that come with built-in fan bases, such as “Mean Girls,” “Beetlejuice,” or “Frozen.” Byrne and “American Utopia” are no exception, as fans of the Talking Heads act as a built-in audience for the show.

“The most popular and successful musicals seem to have name recognition to the outside world. People are going to see the name rather than a Broadway show,” says C.J. McClure, a performing arts student and sophomore at the University.

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What @davidbyrneofficial said. #ElectionDay 🧠

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American Utopia is playing at the Hudson Theatre until Feb. 16, 2020.