Footlights

Theater News

The fall theater season on Broadway is in full swing with the arrival of David Byrne’s concert presentation, “David Byrne’s American Utopia,” and the two-part epic play, “The Inheritance,” winner of the Olivier Award for Best Play of the Year.

“David Byrne’s American Utopia.” (Catalina Kulczar)


BAND ON THE LOOSE

Let’s start with the name, a punctuation minefield for the uninitiated interviewer: Annie takes a hyphen, B drops a period and (unlike choreographer
David Parsons) she‘s one Parson. But, put ‘em all together, and you have Annie-B Parson, an innovative envelope-pusher in her Broadway debut, musically staging and choreographing “David Byrne’s American Utopia” at the Hudson Theatre.

“My name isn’t a very fun story,” Annie-B confesses sheepishly. It’s something her two sisters slapped on her at an early age, and it stuck. The spelling, however, is hers—kindergarten primal. 

The theatrical concert experience she and Byrne have fashioned for songs from his same-named 2018 album, as well as his days as Talking Heads front man and his solo career, has already put in 144 shows all over the globe. 

As per Byrne’s edict, it’s a band in gray flannel suits. Two could sing and dance; the rest had to be brought into the dance world by Annie-B. “Nobody would mistake them for what we think of as trained dancers,” she concedes kinda proudly, “but isn’t that more expressive and beautiful?”

Counting Byrne, there are 12 on stage—but not so you’d notice. “It was David’s concept to have a completely untethered band. The ubiquitous drum platform, standing mikes, cords, all the stuff we’re supposed to not notice in a rock band—that’s gone. It’s a minimalist aesthetic, very uncluttered. Suddenly freed musicians playing music—and dancing!—throughout the entire show is completely new for the Broadway sensibility. We’ve been thrilled to see how audiences feel about this.”

Even critics are susceptible. London’s New Musical Express suggests it “may just be the best live show of all time.” This brings a smile to Annie-B’s Face. “We’ll take that.”

“David Byrne’s American Utopia,” Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St., 855.801.5876, americanutopiabroadway.com 

Paul Hilton (left) and Kyle Soller in the West End production of “The Inheritance.” (Marc Brenner, 2018)


ANOTHER PART OF THE FORSTER

The four Yanks who brought Matthew Lopez’s Olivier Award-winning gay epic, “The Inheritance,” to life in London, have returned stateside to do the same at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, bringing with them a British co-star who, at 49, is bracing for his Broadway bow.

Paul Hilton (below) appears older and more rickety on stage, playing a facsimile of the frail novelist, E.M. Forster, who here goes by his middle name, “Morgan,” which intimates called him in real life. Then, removing his spectacles and adjusting his accent, the actor becomes another character in the play—Walter, the lover of a rich Republican. “Morgan/Walter represent the heart, compassion and unconditional love of this play,” he says.

As a lifelong closet case, was Forster’s own heart missing in action? “Yes and no,” Hilton answers sagely. “I think privately Morgan had a deep, loving relationship with [a man], but he was a victim of his time. He didn’t feel he could be honest in a public sphere about who he was, and, of course, that’s the tragedy.”

The times they are a-changin’ in this play. They’re positively epoch-jumping, and the dress code runs from Edwardian tweeds to Upper West Side dungarees. 

One London scribe said “The Inheritance” is to take Forster’s novel “Howards End,” add AIDS-era “Angels in America” (Tony Kushner’s play), stir vigorously and serve in two-part, seven-hour doses. Hilton buys that. “There are plot parallels. If you see [the movie or read ] “Howards End” before you see our play, you will be rewarded.”

Hilton had an immediate thunderbolt reaction to the play. “I never read anything that moved me so deeply and gripped me so intensely. It’s a long piece to read, and I read it in one sitting. At the end of it, I felt renewed, transformed. I felt I knew myself more than when I started to read the piece. I had an awakening and I thought if this is what it’s doing to me as an actor reading it, the possibilities for an audience are immense.”

“The Inheritance,” Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St., 212.239.6200, theinheritanceplay.com