“Here Lies Love,” a celebrated “disco pop” stage musical with a score by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, dramatizing Imelda Marcos’ rise to prominence and downfall in the Philippines, has finally landed a long-awaited berth on Broadway.
Opening this summer at one of New York’s most prominent venues, the Broadway Theatre, “Here Lies Love,” will be produced in the fully immersive, mostly standing-room format that was an essential element in its world premiere engagement at the Public Theatre 10 years ago, and subsequent productions in London and Seattle. That immersive setting had also posed the greatest potential challenge in getting the show mounted on Broadway, where ripping the seats out is not an every-year occurence.
Preview performances will begin June 17, with the show’s official opening night set for July 20.
Much of the team that has been involved with the show in prior productions will return, including Tony-winning director Alex Timbers, choreographer Annie-B Parson and Clint Ramos, a Tony winner who has served as designer and a creative director as well as a producer.
Ramos is also one of the many Filipino creative team members, reflecting to a large extent behind the scenes what will be visible on stage, as all of the principal roles in “Here Lies Love” are Filipino (although no actors have been announced, casting is likely to proceed accordingly, as it has in other productions). The strong involvement of Filipinos at all levels has proven key in engaging that community in previous productions, especially given the controversial subject matter, the oppressive regime led by Ferdinand Marcos and his wife for decades before they were finally driven from power in the 1980s.
Said Jose Antonio Vargas, one of the show’s producers, and the founder of the immigration organization Define American: “Filipinos are among the largest immigrant groups in America –– and also among the most invisible culturally, despite the two nations’ shared colonial histories. While the Asian diaspora can no longer be denied in American popular culture, Filipinas and Filipinos remain woefully outside the spotlight. I’m thrilled to help break barriers on what has historically been an exclusive stage: Broadway.”
The 1924-circa Broadway Theatre is one of the most visible pieces of real estate in New York theater, being one of only five Broadway houses that actually sits on the street of that name. It seats 1,765, according to the Schubert Organization’s web page for the theater — but how many it will actually “seat” for this show is open for question, given that “Here Lies Love” has heretofore played in settings where an open SRO floor is augmented by a lesser amount of traditional seating on the sides or in a balcony.
The announcement for this production says that “will transform the venue’s traditional proscenium floor space into a dance club environment, where audiences will stand and move with the actors. A wide variety of standing and seating options will be available throughout the theater’s reconstructed space, with more details to be announced soon.”
“Here Lies Love” opened at the off-Broadway Public Theatre in 2013 and had a return engagement there in 2014-15. Its biggest staging to date came at London’s Royal National Theatre in 2014. The show was staged again in America at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2017.
Variety enthusiastically reviewed the Seattle engagement five years ago, calling the show “one of the more creatively satisfying rock-to-theater crossover projects yet … an immediate destination for anyone with a serious interest in immersive theater, Talking Heads, the underserved intersection of show tunes and club beats, or the whole subgenre of dystopian-diva musicals. … Byrne’s show is undeniably in the tradition of ‘Evita,’ the mother of all royal rags-to-bitches shows, except it’s a lot more fun in the audience-participation telling, before it then — ironically — becomes more serious (than ‘Evita’) about the death toll tallied while dictators and their complicit spouses shake their fascist groove thang.”
“Here Lies Love” was initially unveiled to the public in the form of a 2010 concept album that had artists like Sia, Tori Amos, Florence Welch, Natalie Merchant, Steve Earle, and the late Sharon Jones contributing vocals. By the time the official cast album came out in 2014, Byrne had replaced about a third of the music. Wrote Variety of the Seattle show, “What stands now is a 26-song score that proves needless any concerns about (Byrne’s) ability to transcend his rock idiosyncrasies for a medium demanding more in the way of both formality and variety. Although the emphasis is on contemporary beats, ‘Here Lies Love’ has the proverbial bit of something for everybody — ingénue ballads, Elton John-style ’70s pop-disco, tropical love songs, angry soul stirrers, political rockers, folk protest tunes, tinges of techno, and pretty straightforward musical theater tunes.”
Subsequently, of course, Byrne has become a Tony winner, being granted a special Tony in 2021 for “American Utopia,” the highly theatrical concert production in which he and a cast of musicians performed his solo and Talking Heads music, going from a national tour to engagement at Broadway’s Hudson and St. James Theatres.
“Here Lies Love” is being produced on Broadway by Hal Luftig, Patrick Catullo, Diana DiMenna for Plate Spinner Productions, and Clint Ramos and Jose Antonio Vargas –– the latter two being billed as the first-ever Filipino lead producers on Broadway.
Said Ramos, a Tony winner who first became involved in working on the project in 2006: “Exciting lessons are often learned through uniquely surprising works of art. And nothing is more surprising than the way ‘Here Lies Love’ vibrantly and creatively sheds light on a crucial part of Philippine history. Jose and I are so proud to help bring forth this singularly original show.”
The announcement noted that the show has four Filipino co-producers — Miranda Gohh, Celia Kaleialoha Kenney, Rob Laqui and Giselle “G” Töngi — while Filipino creative team members include music director J. Oconer Navarro, costume designer Clint Ramos, casting director Gail Quintos , assistant director Billy Bustamante, assistant stage manager Sheryl Polancos and aforementioned producer Töngi also serving as cultural and community liaison.
Other key figures in the production include scenic designer David Korins, lighting designer Justin Townsend, sound designers M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer and production designer Peter Nigrini. Casting is being handled by Tara Rubin and Xavier Rubiano; Foresight Theatrical is responsible for general management.