David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s “Here Lies Love,” a revolutionary musical which explores the life of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, is making waves on Broadway and pushing the boundaries of conventional theater. This immersive disco-bio-musical presents the complex tale of power, politics, love, and betrayal in a nightclub setting, an engaging experience that has resonated with both Filipino and international audiences.
The Broadway Theater, originally a movie palace opened in 1924, has been transformed dramatically by set designer David Korins. The architectural transformation has reduced the nearly 1,800 seats to around 800, allowing for standing room for another 300 in the former orchestra section, evoking the feel of Studio 54, a celebrity nightclub famously frequented by Marcos. With its impressive 42-inch disco ball hanging in the center of the space, the play creatively reflects the disco-era Marcos lived through.
However, the real charm of the show, as reviewed by The Guardian, is not its immersive staging or architectural innovation but its human element. It’s the “roof-raising” musical numbers, delivered by an all-Filipino cast, that have audiences dancing against the backdrop of Imelda Marcos’ despotic reign.
The play follows Imelda Marcos, played by Arielle Jacobs, from her humble beginnings as a beauty queen to her controversial tenure as the first lady of the Philippines. It also delves into the lives of Ferdinand Marcos, played by Jose Llana, and Ninoy Aquino, the opposition leader played by Conrad Ricamora.
Yet, while “Here Lies Love” delights in its immersive theatrical experience, Variety suggests that the musical sacrifices substance for style. The critic argues that the vibrant, infectious presentation of Philippine history, though visually spectacular, might overshadow the disturbing realities of the Marcos’ regime4.
The immersive experience is facilitated by a tireless team of ushers, kitted out in pink jumpsuits and glittery eye makeup, who use glow sticks to guide the audience. The play succeeds in redefining the boundary between performers and audience members, inviting viewers to be part of the narrative in a way traditional theater does not.
In conclusion, “Here Lies Love” has sparked a Broadway revolution, transforming the theater into a pulsating disco where the story of Imelda Marcos unfolds to the rhythm of captivating music. While the immersive format may compromise some narrative depth, the play’s innovation, engaging performances, and intimate connection to Filipino history have solidified it as a significant cultural event.