Duran Duran Continues Its Revival With a Debut on a Broadway Stage

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Duran Duran Continues Its Revival With a Debut on a Broadway Stage

Published: November 3, 2007

On Sunday Duran Duran had its first off-Broadway tryout, in Wallingford, Conn. There were the usual technical difficulties — the show started an hour late — and not all the critics were kind. (“The group tested lighting schemes, video cues and fans’ patience,” Kenneth Partridge wrote in The Hartford Courant.)

Still, on Thursday more than 1,000 fans streamed into the Ethel Barrymore Theater on West 47th Street, where the 1980s pop dandies are now in the midst of a nine-night stand. Their first Broadway run comes complete with the usual theatrical trappings, like Playbills, intermission and marquee billing promoting the band’s about-to-be-released album, “Red Carpet Massacre” (Epic).

“We just wanted to see it up there in big letters,” Nick Rhodes, the keyboardist, said earlier this week in a group interview in Epic’s Midtown offices. John Taylor, the bassist, added that a Broadway show was such a long-held Duran dream that even the program was exciting; Simon Le Bon, the lead singer, wondered what they would do for intermission. (Order drinks, said Roger Taylor, the drummer.)

Admittedly, they’re a little old to be Broadway babies. Early MTV darlings whose videos for “Girls on Film” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” were in near-constant rotation, Duran Duran has performed in various incarnations almost continuously since 1980; the five-piece original lineup reunited in 2003 for a successful tour, just in time for the ’80s revival in music and fashion.

Like most rock veterans, the group has also suffered from excess and infighting. Andy Taylor, the guitarist, defected just before “Red Carpet Massacre” was made. (None of the Taylors are related.)

But the four remaining members’ excitement about their New York residency and their new album is as palpable as any ingénue’s. Though the Broadway run doesn’t have a director, the record did: Timbaland co-produced three tracks. His signature sound was also brought to more songs by a protégé, the producer Nate Hills, known as Danja. And Justin Timberlake, another Timbaland acolyte, co-wrote and helped produce the “SexyBack”-ish “Nite Runner.” That song, and the single “Falling Down,” about public humiliation, combine synthy new-wave pop with Timbaland’s head-bobbing beats. The album goes on sale Nov. 13, the day of the group’s final show at the Barrymore.

“We feel that our audience, who have been on this four-year-reunion, greatest-hits ride, were really ready for something kind of experimentalist,” John Taylor said.

“Even if they didn’t know it,” Mr. Le Bon said.

The group met Timbaland several years ago at the music industry’s version of a trade conference, an awards show. “We’d been courting each other for years,” John Taylor said.

In 2003, when Duran Duran received a lifetime achievement honor at the Brit Awards, Timbaland showed up unexpectedly at a party after the show. “He came with all these bodyguards, and I think that was a statement of intent” that he wanted to get together, Roger Taylor said.

In an e-mail message, Timbaland said he had been a fan of the band since its early days and welcomed the chance to “vibe with them.”

Duran Duran will perform the new album in its entirety every night of the Broadway run. The title and theme — the perils of celebrity life — are underscored by a red carpet, complete with paparazzi-style photographers, outside the theater. The second half of the show features what the band calls an “electro set” (like an acoustic set, but plugged in) and, finally, a delayed-gratification retro section, with hits like “Rio” and “Ordinary World.” (Piping obscure covers of these ’80s staples into the theater pre-show is the band’s way of teasing its especially obsessive fans.)

“The idea that celebrity seems to be the holy grail now for so many young people is quite frightening and sad,” Mr. Le Bon said, adding that the inspiration for the celebrities-gone-wild concept was easy to find, both in popular culture and in the group’s own experiences. (“Do you want me to list all the times” he’s messed up, he asked, though he used a word more attuned to a rock star.) A video for “Falling Down” riffs on the idea of model types in rehab. One version caused a small stir in Britain because it showed bare breasts.

Known as pretty boys even among the flouncy ’80s Brit-pop set, Duran Duran favors skinny jeans and mussed hair; Mr. Rhodes still wears eye makeup. But the men, most of whom are now married with children, have also mellowed into middle age. Mr. Le Bon’s shirts are tucked in. John Taylor sometimes takes a back seat to his wife, Gela Nash-Taylor, a founder of the Los Angeles fashion line Juicy Couture. They all make a lot of puns.

And they took a circuitous route to make “Red Carpet Massacre.” In 2005, the group recorded a different album, with the working title “Reportage.” Politically motivated, it was “indie rock, quite angry,” Mr. LeBon said.

It was, John Taylor added, “our misunderstood masterpiece.”

But the label wanted more singles, so the group returned to the studio. Enter Timbaland, “the only producer we could agree on,” Mr. Rhodes said. They planned to record three new songs for the existing album, but Timbaland’s method was so game-changing, and the results so pleasing, that the group decided to start from scratch.

“Working with these hip-hop producers, we had to write songs faster than we’ve written them in 20 years,” John Taylor said. “And unknowingly we were just grabbing into the zeitgeist in a way that we would not have normally done. I think as a result we got something that was a little bit more of the moment.”

The departure of Andy Taylor, the guitarist, was also instrumental, the group said; he had taken part in “Reportage” but was gone by “Red Carpet.”

“He had a different idea of how he wanted the band’s career to go, and the four of us had the same vision and we’re prepared to do anything to get there,” Mr. Le Bon said.

Though the group won’t rule out another reunion, relations are chilly. Andy “doesn’t like leaving the island of Ibiza,” where he lives, John Taylor said. (Attempts to contact Andy Taylor in Ibiza were unsuccessful.)

As for “Reportage,” “it’s in the deep freeze,” Roger Taylor said.

“Next to the turkey,” Mr. Le Bon added. But he said he expected it to be released someday. “We’re not so prolific that we can afford to keep a whole album sitting in the fridge.”

Roger Taylor mused: “Staying in the game when you’re a sort of artist, or whatever it is we are, it’s like holding on to something but without being, like, a Peter Pan about it. You could meet a lot of musicians that came out at the same time as we did from England that are still locked into this idea that was created in 1982, and they still wear the same clothes and they have the same hairstyle and their dialogue is pretty much the same. And we flow, we really do. We’re not quite in 2007, but we’re not in 1982 either.”

John Taylor added: “Maybe 2005,” and they all laughed.


Photo: Beatrice de Gea for The New York Times

Courtesy NY Times