Arielle Jacobs and Jose Llana in Here Lies Love
Photograph: Courtesy Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy and Evan ZimmermanHere Lies Love
  • Theater, Musicals
  • Recommended


Here Lies Love

4 out of 5 stars

Broadway gets a stunning makeover in David Byrne's disco biomusical.


Time Out says

Broadway review by Adam Feldman  

The groundbreaking, floor-shaking Here Lies Love makes space for itself like no Broadway show ever has. David Byrne’s concept musical about the rise and fall of the former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos was a hit in its 2013 run at the Public Theatre, but those who saw that immersive production may have wondered how it could possibly translate to a traditional proscenium theater. The trick, it turns out, was to remake the venue instead of the show: Director Alex Timbers and set designer David Korins have revolutionized and radicalized the capacious Broadway Theatre into a gleaming dance club, walled by dozens of video screens, where audience members—often literally standing in the middle of the action—get swept up in the shifting tides and undertows of history. 

Proscenium houses have been reconfigured before; the Broadway Theatre got remade twice in the early 1970s (for the infamous Dude and the marvelous Candide), and other venues have been been reimagined more recently in productions like Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and Timbers’s own Rocky. But Here Lies Love takes this idea to a flashy new level: With much of the audience moving throughout the 90-minute show, guided around an ever-shifting set of platforms, it barely feels like it's in a theater at all. (The rest of the crowd is mostly seated in what used to be the mezzanine, now just a few feet from the extended stage; there are also slim rows of seats on three sides of the main playing area.) As the musical begins, an onstage DJ (Moses Villarama) whips up the crowd, and the thumping music—which Byrne co-wrote with big beat pioneer Fatboy Slim, with assists from Tom Gandey and José Luis Pardo—gets you into the groove from the start. 

Here Lies Love | Photograph: Courtesy Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

While its sensational staging is one of a kind, the musical itself inevitably recalls another show about a populist postcolonial dictator’s wife: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita. Like that show, Here Lies Love grew out of a concept album, and tells the rags-to-riches story of an ambitious country girl—in this case, Imelda (the radiant Arielle Jacobs)—who rises to power and glamour on the arm of a military hero turned brutal strongman—in this case, Ferdinand Marcos (Jose Llana). As in Evita, a third major character serves as a critic and foil to the couple: the martyred opposition leader Ninoy Aquino (a charismatic Conrad Ricamora), who—in a stranger-than-fiction twist—actually dated Imelda early in their lives. And like Evita, it is both epic in scope and idiosyncratic in focus. (Although the story extends to the fall of Marcos’s regime in the 1980s, his successor Corazon Aquino, Ninoy’s widow, has no lines.)

But Here Lies Love is ultimately less sweet on its central figure than Evita is on Eva Perón. At first, the opposite seems true: Here Lies Love gets you rooting early on for Imelda and the handsome Ferdinand, and in Byrne’s lyrics—which draw heavily from real statements by the Marcoses and others—she holds forth loftily about ideals. “When I am called by God above, don’t have my name inscribed into the stone,” she sings in the title song. “Just say: Here lies love.” Even this sentiment, though, conceals a seed of malice: It’s not just that she embodies love, but that she will take it down with her when she goes. And the musical grows darker as it moves forward and the Marcoses embrace corruption, torture and martial law. If the first half enfolds us in Imelda’s love, the second reveals it to be lies. 

Here Lies Love | Photograph: Courtesy Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

In this regard, Here Lies Love shares dramaturgical DNA with Timbers’s 2010 cult musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which also took aim at populism by drawing the audience into a sucker punch. To achieve this effect, the show sometimes plays hanky-panky with history (the 1960s Imelda appears to party at Studio 54 and negotiate with Reagan and Gorbachev), but the strategy succeeds overall. And the kinetic rush of the design—which includes lighting by Justin Townsend, projections by Peter Nigrini and sound by M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer—is matched by an energetic ensemble, perfectly costumed by Clint Ramos, that keeps the action spinning as it executes precise choreography by longtime Byrne collaborator Annie-B Parson. (Making valuable contributions are Melody Butiu as Imelda’s childhood friend, Jasmine Forsberg as her inner voice and—in a luxury cameo for the first few weeks of the run—Filipina musical-theater icon Lea Salonga as Aquino’s mother.) 

Byrne and Timbers’s musical has even deeper resonance today than it did in its Off Broadway incarnation. Eva Perón had the good public-relations sense to die young, but Imelda is alive and kicking up her many shoes at the age of 94; she has survived disgrace to see the Marcos dynasty rejuvenated in the Philippines, where her son Bongbong became President last year. Our complicity with such cycles of populist fervor—whether, depending on your ticket, as spectators from a safe distance or as extras in a mob scene—is the loudly beating heart of Here Lies Love, a party that hides a mordant critique of civilization and its discotheques. 

Here Lies Love. Broadway Theatre (Broadway). Concept and lyrics by David Byrne. Music by Byrne and Fatboy Slim. Additional music by Tom Gandey and José Luis Pardo. Directed by Alex Timbers. With Arielle Jacobs, Conrad Ricamora, Jose Llana, Lea Salonga, Melody Butiu, Jasmine Forsberg, Moses Villarama. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

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Here Lies Love | Photograph: Courtesy Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman


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