American Utopia’s Tendayi Kuumba and Chris Giarmo on Getting Comfortable on Broadway

first_img from $299.00 David Byrne’s American Utopia Chris Giarmo and Tendayi Kuumba perform with David Byrne in “American Utopia” (Photo: Matthew Murphy) Tendayi Kuumba and Chris Giarmo (Photos by Caitlin McNaney for View Comments Related Shows Tendayi Kuumba and Chris Giarmo Tendayi Kuumba and Chris Giarmo never thought they would be on Broadway. They’re currently both appearing in American Utopia, the David Byrne experience that is part concert, part exploration of modern Americana. Though they’re both singing and dancing on stage alongside Byrne and nine musicians, Giarmo admits he always thought that Broadway was “not for me.” In a #LiveatFive conversation with’s Paul Wontorek, the two artists talked about discovering that there was room on Broadway for them. Part of that is because Byrne is something of an experimental theatermaker himself (he composed the off-Broadway disco musical Here Lies Love) and American Utopia choreographer Annie-B Parson is a dance world legend. “I’ve worked with Annie-B Parson, the choreographer, since 2005,” explains Giarmo. “This movement is so deep in me and to be able to bring this movement and this music to a Broadway audience, it kinda makes me think of Broadway differently. I’m so proud to be able to represent this art.” Giarmo’s other credits include creating musical scores for the off-off-Broadway theater company Half Straddle and performing in Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music; he also has a drag alter ego named Kimberly Clark. Kuumba is a company member for the African-American dance company Urban Bush Women, and performed in the Bill T. Jones opera We Shall Not Be Moved. Both artists also toured American Utopia worldwide (including playing at Coachella). They both praised the Byrne’s collaborate spirit. “I would have an idea musically, [and] he’s like, ‘Oh, let’s try it,’” enthuses Kuumba. Adds Giarmo, “He trusted everything that we’ve done the entire time and that is such an important skill I think for any lead artist to carry. When you trust the people that are making your work happen, not only does it make you look incredible but it makes them feel supported and that is such a huge thing.” To him, American Utopia isn’t just a disparate group of artists. “You can feel that we’re a family. We’re not his backing band; we’re his band.” The performers also believe that American Utopia is more than a concert. It asks the audience to think about how they’re living today, and how they can make the world better, they said. Case in point: one of the songs in the show is called “Don’t Worry About the Government,” which Byrne has not performed in 35 years. “He’s an art pop legend,” explains Giarmo. “He revolutionized the way that pop music was able to cross over these creative artistic boundaries for decades.” Adds Kuumba, “It’s timeless. Every time you hear a song it’s like, this could have been made last week, and it would still make you feel the same joy now that it made you feel then.”Kuumba hopes that audiences who see American Utopia will walk away feeling more in touch with the world, and the people, around them. “When was the last time you actually paid attention to what you’re questioning and what you’re not questioning and why,” she explains. “And how does that impact your humanity? How does that inform how you walk through the world? And how is that going to help us be able to walk through the world to make it a better place?”American Utopia runs until February 16.Watch the #LiveAtFive interview below. Video Player is loading.Play VideoPlayMuteCurrent Time 0:00/Duration 32:33Loaded: 0.00%Stream Type LIVESeek to live, currently playing liveLIVERemaining Time -32:33 Playback Rate1xChaptersChaptersDescriptionsdescriptions off, selectedCaptionscaptions settings, opens captions settings dialogcaptions off, selectedEnglishAudio Tracken (Main), selectedFullscreenThis is a modal window.Beginning of dialog window. Escape will cancel and close the window.TextColorWhiteBlackRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyanTransparencyOpaqueSemi-TransparentBackgroundColorBlackWhiteRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyanTransparencyOpaqueSemi-TransparentTransparentWindowColorBlackWhiteRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyanTransparencyTransparentSemi-TransparentOpaqueFont Size50%75%100%125%150%175%200%300%400%Text Edge StyleNoneRaisedDepressedUniformDropshadowFont FamilyProportional Sans-SerifMonospace Sans-SerifProportional SerifMonospace SerifCasualScriptSmall CapsReset restore all settings to the default valuesDoneClose Modal DialogEnd of dialog window.Close Modal DialogThis is a modal window. This modal can be closed by pressing the Escape key or activating the close button.last_img