Friday, November 19, 2021

American Utopia (Broadway)


Along with a band of 9 musicians playing musical instruments that are either portable or wireless as well as two interpretative dancers, David Byrne completes the dozen to perform songs from his albums reimagined as an onstage performance full of music and dance. He starts off with “Here” while holding a replica of a human brain uttering some facts about neurons and connections and how these are trimmed down as a human being grow older. He follows it up with songs such as "I Know Sometimes a Man Is Wrong", "Don't Worry About the Government", and "Everybody's Coming to My House" among others. With the onstage rendition in predominantly gray hues from the production design all the way down to the performers’ suits, music and dance light up the stage in this cathartic take on utopia, human connection and isolation as well as some candid commentary on random issues lately.

My non-coherent stream of consciousness while watching American Utopia: Wait, did I make it to the St. James Theater, or did I snooze the alarm after it went off and went back to sleep? Am I lucid dreaming this whole thing? What dafuq am I watching right now? Oh look, someone in the front row just got up to dance. Why are the lyrics of the songs so weird? I don’t care, the beat and all this dancing is contagious AF. Am I high? Oh wow, half the audience are up on their feet and dancing now. Should I also get up and dance?

This is so trippy, man. I had no idea what the material was all about. I just saw it on TodayTix and booked a ticket. I am tempted to label it as performance art except that is what theater is, right? Performance art. But this is neither a play nor a musical. It’s like a performative version of a bunch of albums, interpretative to some extent and rather abstract. I guess we can say that it is one of those shows that choose its audience. Either you like it, or you don’t. I am kind of caught in between and I don’t know why.

One thing I am sure of is that there is this feeling of levity while watching it, like some sort of catharsis that you just can’t place. It felt more like an LSD trip of sorts, and it seems as though it would’ve felt more like that had the set and costumes not been monotonously gray. Like, if they substituted those with shades of neon pink and orange then this would have been a hallucinatory experience overall. It is not my cup of tea, I’d say, because I am used to watching plays and musicals with a storyline and a plot.

Whatever criticism you might have, though, American Utopia sure is one hell of an enjoyable experience. Again, in a rather abstract sense. I was trying to make sense of the lyrics but the hypnotically weird hip-shaking courtesy of Byrne and friends just got me in some sort of psychedelic trance. I am quite sure I wasn’t the only one because surveying the scene, majority of the people in the audience were either bobbing their heads or just dancing on their seats anyway.

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