A Fantastical Happening in Manila: “Here Lies Love”

Presented by the Broadway Theatre
Concept & Lyrics: David Byrne
Music: David Byrne & Fatboy Slim
Directed by Alex Timbers
Music direction by J. Oconer Navarro
Choreography by Annie-B Parson
Fight direction by Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum
Cultural advocacy and facilitation by Sophia Skiles
July 20 – November 26, 2023
Broadway Theatre 
1681 Broadway
Between West 52nd and 53rd Streets
New York NY 10019

90 minutes with no intermission.

Review by Kitty Drexel

Post Update, 11/14/23: A previous version of this post misspelled Manila. Grammarly and auto-spellcheck are both jerks.  Our apologies. 

NEW YORK — Here Lies Love is slated to close on November 26. The good news is regional theatres should have access to performance rights soon. The bad news is, if you wanted to see it on Broadway, you have only a few weeks left.  

The Telecharge summary: “From Talking Heads frontman and songwriter of “Burning Down the House,” David Byrne; the beat master of “Praise You,” DJ Fatboy Slim and Tony®-winning director of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Alex Timbers comes Here Lies Love. The Broadway Theatre is transformed into Club Millennium, where a young Imelda Marcos gets catapulted to a life of fame, excess, and intoxicating power after winning the hearts of two political rivals: Marcos and Ninoy Aquino. 

Here Lies Love is an immersive disco musical with moving set pieces that had me remembering fondly the American Repertory Theatre’s own Donkey Show at Club Oberon. But, this production’s actors aren’t among the crowd; the crowd is brought to them. We danced together, celebrated together, and mourned together as Imelda Marcos rose to fame and fell amidst dastardly avariciousness. 

Here Lies Love’s creation and execution is greatly complicated. Amanda L. Andrei discusses its problems and solutions from many angles in her article, “The Complicated Triumph of ‘Here Lies Love’,” in the print edition of American Theatre Magazine. She says it all much better than I would.

I do know that the Filipino actors in the November 11 production were excellent. They, with the production’s crew, created a new reality in which political ramifications mattered less than the party we were having in the moment. And, the audience was thoroughly in the moment. We’ll have to live with our decisions to cheer with the fake Marcos’ greed for the rest of our lives. 

No matter what your musical tastes, Here Lies Love is a fantastical happening that sucks you in, has its way with you, and spits you out after 90 minutes. It was more fun than The Donkey Show, and I loved The Donkey Show

The Broadway Theatre takes excellent care of its performers. Food and liquids weren’t allowed past the lobby lest they become a hazard. A mandatory, free (with gratuity and funky neon green slap bracelets. How 90s!) coat and bag check was immediately past the lobby doors for all standing-room attendees on the dance floor to ensure neither actors nor attendees were pickpocketed or smacked by personal items 

Ushers in pink coveralls directed the dense throng of attendees to their sections and, during the performance, the flow of the audience with light-up traffic control wands as the wheeled set moved into new configurations. These ushers (and a few stage managers in street clothes) wanted attendees to have a good time. Their respectful yet commanding presence kept us all on our best behavior. 

I kept my phone in my right hand, and my ticket and red lipstick in my dress pockets. I was free to sing and dance. 

From doorway to dancefloor, Here Lies Love is designed to remind us to let the actors perform on the terms they agreed to in rehearsals. Theatre managers know that most attendees are reasonable, nonviolent persons. It is satisfying to know that the persons handling the money were aware that the wrong person would take their unreasonableness out on an actor just trying to do their damn job. Not even Broadway offers hazard pay.  

This production requires a large Filipino cast. Would it be good to see it in Boston? Yes, absolutely, but only if Boston producers could get it right and cast from the local Filipino population. Boston’s professional theatres can’t even cast The Color Purple without dipping into the New York talent pool. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.  

Check out Jose Llana (Marcos) commanding the mic like Raul Julia in “A Perfect Hand.”

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