'Here Lies Love' review — disco-pop musical brings the party
Read our four-star review of Here Lies Love on Broadway, an immersive disco-pop musical featuring songs by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim.
For Here Lies Love, the storied Broadway Theatre has transformed into Club Millennium, a bright, pulsating discotheque sans orchestra seats. A disc jockey (Moses Villarama) pumps up the incoming crowd as energetic ushers, clad in pink jumpsuits, play air traffic control for patrons on the dance floor. A fitting setting for a musical about the rise of a dictatorship, no?
David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s musical, which began as a concept album, chronicles the ascent of Imelda Marcos’s power, fame, and fortune — and subsequent fall. Director Alex Timbers zeros in on Imelda’s lavish spending of ill-gotten money. And its narrative framework hangs on a fun historical fact: Imelda had a mirrored disco ball inside her New York townhouse and was a famously large presence in the city's disco scene.
The show’s timeline spans from Imelda’s childhood in the 1930s to the People Power Revolution in 1986, telling her rags-to-riches story through disco-pop beats. A local beauty pageant deems Imelda the “Rose of Tacloban,” a title that inspires her to move to Manila, where she meets Congressman Ferdinand Marcos and helps him clinch the presidential election. The rest is a painful history of corruption, repression, and violence.
The immersive musical first bowed off Broadway at The Public Theater in 2013 before making waves in London, Australia, and stateside in Seattle. Now, Here Lies Love brings the first all-Filipino cast on Broadway, with a company including Jose Llana (Ferdinand Marcos) and Conrad Ricaroma (Ninoy Aquino), who originated their roles downtown.
Arielle Jacobs glitters as Imelda Marcos with her dulcet vocals and ability to transform from a “young girl from Leyte” to the stony “Steel Butterfly,” as the dictator came to be known. (Costume designer Clint Ramos’s pleated, butterfly-sleeve dresses help the metamorphosis.) Jacobs is disarming in the role.
As Ferdinand, Llana energizes supporters with friendly handshakes, and later, he asserts dominance with a simple glare. Ricamora's Ninoy, as the opposition leader, riles the crowd with his charming confidence and shines with solo numbers like “The Fabulous One.” Another standout is the incomparable Lea Salonga as Aurora Aquino. Her number, “Just Ask the Flowers,” is a showstopper. (Salonga will play the role through August 13.)
The show's real star is the glitzy, all-encompassing set by David Korins. As the action unfolds, stage platforms shift, audience members shuffle, and video projections display live-action crowd shots and historical documents on large screens throughout the auditorium. A giant disco ball spins, reflecting light across the space. Annie-B Parson’s electrifying choreography, which includes a Filipino line dance with the audience, furthers the nightclub scene.
Audience members whose knowledge of Imelda Marcos is limited to the fact that she owned 3,000 pairs of shoes will only leave with a partial understanding of this violent period. The musical has no book, and the punchy songs paint broad strokes of the 60-year history. (The program, given to the stage floor patrons upon exiting the theatre, includes an insert with a more detailed historical timeline that fills in the show’s gaps.)
Still, this rollicking, form-breaking musical party is well worth an RSVP.
Photo credit: Arielle Jacobs and the cast of Here Lies Love on Broadway. (Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)
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