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David Byrne's American Utopia cast reflects on their Broadway return: 'It's been wonderful to be back'

·6 min read

David Byrne's American Utopia is back on Broadway — and everybody's coming to their house.

The singular, joyful theatrical concert, performed by Byrne with a cadre of talented musicians and dancers, has settled into its new home at the St. James Theatre, where it began previews in September and celebrated a grand reopening last Sunday.

To mark the occasion, Byrne and his fellow cast members posed for a photo atop their theater — you can see them gathered under the marquee's lights in the shot, which EW is debuting exclusively below — all matching in the show's monochromatic gray suits (and lack of footwear).

American Utopia
American Utopia

Joan Marcus The cast of 'David Byrne's American Utopia' poses atop the St. James Theatre in New York City.

American Utopia is in many ways the same show that played Broadway in 2019/early 2020, and then was captured by Spike Lee for a filmed version that streamed while the pandemic forced everyone inside their homes, but some parts have taken on new meaning in our current reality. When Byrne addressed the audience during a recent performance to say, "Thank you for leaving your homes," he then added, "I used to say that in the old world, and it had a different meaning. But many things have changed."

"It's been wonderful to be back on stage doing this show," Byrne remarked in a statement to EW. "I've noticed three things. 1. That audiences are thrilled to be out and together again. They've missed that collective experience. 2. That our audience seems to be a little bit younger and 3. a tiny bit more diverse — all of which is a dream for me — to reach an audience that maybe isn't already familiar with the songs, but engages with the show and the subjects we address."

American Utopia features Byrne singing songs that span his musical oeuvre with Talking Heads and beyond, as he and the band move constantly around the stage playing "untethered" instruments. It's a new run in a new theater, but the production still feels as vital and poignant as it did before — same as it ever was, you might say.

Read on for more reflections from members of the band about their Broadway return. David Byrne's American Utopia will play at the St. James Theatre through March 6, 2022.

Bobby Wooten III (bass): "I feel EXTREMELY fortunate to be in an environment that allows us the ability to perform six shows a week. Broadway does this, but the same cannot be said for the nature of touring music shows. That's not to say that COVID's presence still isn't evident (though hopefully never literally in the theater). Performing in front of a fully masked crowd is a different energy, a lot of the perceptible body language though a smile is removed. That being said, as we've gotten comfier with this new normal from the stage, I've begun to notice when a slight lift of a mask on a face happens, illuminating to me that the smiles are still there! Some things are different while others feel very similar, but what's life without change and growth? I feel grateful to be a part of a show that speaks on world issues like immigration, voting, and Black lives matter, both before and after the year that was 2020."

Mauro Refosco (music direction, percussionist): "Getting back to performing live has been nothing short of magical, from the perspective of both the cast and our audience members. Somehow, after a long 18-month hiatus and tons of uncertainties brought by the whole pandemic, getting back on the stage feels like we are more connected among ourselves and with the audience.

Over those long 18 months, we kept a bit of chat going among ourselves, but mainly we were cocooned in our own worlds. Once we started rehearsals, you could sense the deep love and respect we have within the cast. The love we felt towards David Byrne and also the respect and love we have for the whole team that works in the background is required to have this show back up and running. On tour, the connection is really intense because we are forced to live in a traveling circus where we see each other on a daily basis, and that becomes your life. On Broadway, we have two different lives, one revolving around the show and one with our family duties or any other given activities."

Chris Giarmo (vocals/dance): "Getting to return to making music with my American Utopia family feels like coming home. I feel like we've always been on to some magical thing that blows the minds of whatever audience we present it to (whether that's on the road, in living rooms, in movie theaters, or on Broadway), but to us, it's just what we do. It feels so comfortable and correct to be able to make this art at this level, but we're just following a legacy of innovation in music and performance that's been around for decades but is only now reaching a wider audience. The fact that our show is so successful tells me that audiences are ready to expand their artistic experiences, and all I can say to that is, 'Yes, please. More, please!'"

Tendayi Kuumba (vocals/dance): "To be back performing in front of a live audience is fulfilling in so many ways. After about 18 months of not being barefoot on the Marley [floors], it almost felt like I never left. I missed the feel of the stage more than I even expected and felt eager to push myself to be a stronger performer than when I left. Spending countless months creating in my home helped me reconnect with my love for art, innovation, and performing. I was determined to bring this feeling back with me to the theater. I spoke to many bandmates over the time off, but it was nice to all be back in one room with the common goal to reopen with more power and play this run. Also, because we've worked together for a few years now, there was still a sense of ease and joy remembering harmonies, riffs, and choreography. So many feelings after not knowing if or when we would return. Yes, we've traveled the world together, but this past year made it even more valuable to me to hold onto spaces and people that nurture you. Coming back reminded me how we create this space for our audiences too. Seeing the faces of people who have all gone through their own version of craziness this past year was emotional and makes me reflect on a lot — folks bringing their families, friends, and spouses [who] have been singing along with us at home counting down the days just like us. After months, for us to be sharing their joy, sorrow, and dancing all in this 1 hour and 40 minutes is a moment of release and reminds me to not take a day for granted again. It's just as important, if not more, to shower love into the people that are with me off stage, in my homes, and my communities, because that's what helped us get back to the stage to be our best selves. Hopefully, it'll continue to pass on to the audience to keep the cycle going."

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