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How the music of 'Here Lies Love' evolved on the way to Broadway

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's now-critically acclaimed musical at the Broadway Theatre began more than a decade ago as a history-inspired song cycle.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

The disco-driven bio-musical Here Lies Love follows the rise and fall of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. Just like former First Lady Imelda Marcos, who morphs from a pageant star into the face of despotic indulgence, the show by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim evolved en route to Broadway.

Along the way, the creator-composers added and dropped songs. They lifted lyrics from one song and transplanted them into another or as a line of dialogue, according to music director J. Oconer Navarro.

As with history, these changes didn't happen overnight, but rather over nearly two decades as Here Lies Love took shape in various forms. Our timeline charts the various stages of development of Here Lies Love.

2006: The song cycle

Here Lies Love took its first public baby steps as a work-in-progress song cycle led by Byrne at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in Australia. In 2007, Byrne shared the same material – some 20 songs – with the packed house at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The central story was that of Imelda Marcos and Estrella Cumpas, the childhood friend who helped raise her and later got written out of Imelda's public-facing image. Byrne was chasing, he has said, "what drives a powerful person... How do they make and then remake themselves?"

2010: The concept album

The April release features more than 20 guest vocalists, a veritable who’s who of recording stars including Cyndi Lauper, Sia, Tori Amos, and Florence Welch. Like the song cycle, the album’s focus was on Marcos and Cumpas.

A few songs on this album don’t appear in later versions of the show, including “Every Drop of Rain,” a duet between Imelda and Estrella about their class differences. “There’s a bridge section from that song that goes ‘no clothes, no bed, no jewelry, sometimes I had no shoes,’ and that’s now in the song ‘Here Lies Love,’” said Navarro.

The music to “The Whole Man,” which draws upon a Philippine creation myth, “is in the pre-show,” said Navarro, mixed with "Every Drop of Rain" and "How Are You," another Imelda-Estrella duet in which they catch up as Imelda is rising to power.

Navarro added that “Never So Big” has been reimagined as “Sugartime Baby,” a sunny Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos duet set during their honeymoon, before corruption taints their relationship and their fame.

2013: Off-Broadway premiere leads to regional runs

The full-fledged musical, directed by Alex Timbers and choreographed by Annie-B Parson, made its world premiere in 2013 at The Public Theater, which also presented an encore run the next year. Productions of the show then ran in London in 2014 and in Seattle in 2017.

Since the Off-Broadway premiere, “the show, for the most part, has stayed constant,” said Navarro. “The core of it has been wildly the same from Off-Broadway to Seattle to London to Broadway.”

A final total of 25 songs made the musical. Staying true to its song-cycle roots, Here Lies Love is almost entirely sung through.

Here Lies Love Review 1200

2023: Broadway premiere

For this immersive production, the design team reconfigured the Broadway Theatre into a nightclub that situates standing members of the audience in the thick of the action, while others are seated. The all-Filipino company is led by Arielle Jacobs, Jose Llana, and Conrad Ricamora, as, respectively, Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, and their political rival Ninoy Aquino.

For the Broadway run, the music team ordered slight adjustments in the pronunciation of some words – like the city mentioned in the song “The Rose of Tacloban.” “It was about being more accurate and authentic,” said Navarro.

The size of the Broadway Theatre led to a change in “Order 1081,” a haunting song about the Marcoses declaring martial law. “Solos became a series of duets,” said Navarro, as the number of singers builds as the song continues.

Imelda Marcos is still alive, and in 2022, the Philippines elected her son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., as president. That warranted an acknowledgment in the music, too. “The election last year was shocking,” said Navarro. “When the election happened and we found out we were going to Broadway, it was definitely something that we had to consider.”

So the music team amended the finale, “God Draws Straight,” about the People Power Revolution in 1986 that helped lead to the deposition of the dictatorship. A spoken acknowledgement of Bongbong Marcos's presidency now introduces the number.

“The song used to just be a trio, the DJ and two additional people, at the Public,” said Navarro. “On Broadway, it’s grown. We slowly added more people, and this trio has become this beautiful group number.”

If the final image of Here Lies Love suggests that there’s strength in numbers, the story of Imelda Marcos also reminds that power corrupts absolutely, more than ever. “It is a cautionary tale,” said Navarro. “This could happen anywhere.”

All the songs in “Here Lies Love” on Broadway

Learn more about what to expect from the musical storytelling in Here Lies Love. Navarro provided a lightning-round description of each song in the show’s disco-pop score.

  • “American Troglodyte”: “It’s a prologue that connects America with the Philippines.”
  • “Here Lies Love”: “It’s Imelda’s ‘I want song.’” (It’s reprised at the end of the show.)
  • “Child of the Philippines”: “It introduces us to Ninoy and is almost anthemic.”
  • “Opposite Attraction”: “It’s about Imelda and Ninoy’s alleged romance, which some people say didn’t happen. It’s romanticized here.”
  • “The Rose of Tacloban”: “Imelda rises to the top at a beauty pageant.”
  • "A Perfect Hand": “We’re introduced to Marcos, who is running for senator.”
  • “Eleven Days”: “It captures Imelda and Marcos’s whirlwind romance.”
  • “When She Passed By”: “Estrella expresses how proud she is of Imelda.”
  • “Sugartime Baby”: “That’s the backdrop to Imelda and Marcos’s honeymoon tour.”
  • “Walk Like a Woman”: “It covers the first part of Imelda’s marriage to Marcos.”
  • “Don't You Agree/Pretty Face”: “Imelda is learning how to be the first lady.”
  • “Dancing Together”: “Imelda lives the high life.”
  • “The Fabulous One (I'm 'A Rise Up)”: “It’s Ninoy’s rise to power as he sets up the liberal party against the Marcos party.”
  • “Men Will Do Anything”: “Marcos’s affair gets exposed.”
  • “Your Star and Slave”: “It’s something Imelda actually said about how she felt about her country.”
  • “Poor Me”: “We see Imelda’s rise to power and all the things she starts to take over.”
  • “Please Don't”: “It’s a number where Imelda dances with world leaders.”
  • “Solano Avenue”: “Estrella encounters Imelda after she’s given interviews about her.”
  • “Order 1081”: “Martial law is declared.”
  • “Seven Years”: “After his imprisonment, Ninoy is sent off into exile.”
  • “Gate 37”: “It covers Ninoy’s assassination.”
  • “Just Ask the Flowers”: “It’s Ninoy’s funeral song that his mother sings.”
  • “Why Don't You Love Me”: “Imelda questions the people of the Philippines.”
  • “God Draws Straight”: “It’s an incredible story of how people took to the streets to demonstrate.”

Photo credit: The cast of Here Lies Love on Broadway. (Photos by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman)

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